Y Cyfarfod Llawn

Plenary

15/09/2021

In the bilingual version, the left-hand column includes the language used during the meeting. The right-hand column includes a translation of those speeches.

The Senedd met in the Chamber and by video-conference at 13:30 with the Llywydd (Elin Jones) in the Chair.

Statement by the Llywydd

Welcome to this Plenary session. Before we begin, I want to set out a few points. This meeting will be held in a hybrid format, with some Members in the Senedd Chamber and others joining by video-conference. All Members participating in proceedings in the Senedd, wherever they may be, will be treated equally. A Plenary meeting held using video-conference, in accordance with the Standing Orders of the Welsh Parliament, constitutes Senedd proceedings for the purposes of the Government of Wales Act 2006. Some of the provisions of Standing Order 34 will apply for today's Plenary meeting and those are noted on your agenda. I would also remind Members that Standing Orders relating to order in Plenary meetings apply to this meeting and apply equally to Members in the Chamber as to those joining virtually. 

1. Questions to the Minister for Finance and Local Government

The first item on our agenda this afternoon is questions to the Minister for Finance and Local Government, and the first question is from Samuel Kurtz.

Fixed-penalty Notices

1. Will the Minister make a statement on the use of fixed-penalty notices by local authorities? OQ56836

It is for each authority to determine its policy and approach to the use of fixed-penalty notices locally. Fixed-penalty notices are a key tool in tackling a number of offences and we support their use as a response to low-level environmental and other crimes. In 2019-20, local authorities issued 11,091 FPNs in relation to local environmental protection issues.

Thank you, Minister. There are a number of FPNs issued by local authorities that do not see any obligation for the money raised from fines being invested in mitigating the recurrence of such offence. Fly-tipping is an offence that has seen a recent increase across Wales and has blighted many parts of my constituency of Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire. Another issue is FPNs issued to those walking dogs on restricted beaches along the Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire coastal path. Can I urge the Welsh Government to look at how local authorities ring-fence the money raised by FPNs to ensure that the money is spent addressing and improving specific facilities to help change behaviour rather than being lost in the general council spending pot?

Thank you for the question. The Member is absolutely right that there are some FPNs that don't have the requirement to reinvest the money in terms of the cost of the service. But traffic and parking offences sit outside that, of course, being exceptions to that rule.

We did issue guidance to environmental health officers on the use of FPNs in January 2020, and that does advise then that the FPNs are used as part of a wider approach, which should include prevention and collaboration and that authorities have to make their enforcement strategies publicly available. And they should include all of the offences in the scheme and how much the authority will fine people for each offence, details of any early payment discounts, how the FPNs are used, how the authority deals with juvenile offenders, what the authority will do if offenders don't pay and how to appeal if the option is available. But it also requires that it's publicly available in those documents how the money for the FPNs will be spent and how the records are kept. But I'll certainly have a discussion with the representatives in the WLGA to alert them to the concerns that you've raised this afternoon and explore if there's more that we can be doing in terms of the application of that guidance.

Health and Social Services

Thank you very much. It's nice to be back and to see everybody.

2. Will the Minister make a statement on budget allocations to the health and social services portfolio in relation to the provision of children's services? OQ56819

Support for the provision of children’s services is a priority in our budget preparations. Most recently, the 2021-22 supplementary budget allocated £98.7 million to the health and social services portfolio to support children.    

Thank you very much, Minister.

I know that the welfare and life chances of our children and young people, especially those in care, is a shared priority for Ministers and me. In the last decade, we have seen an increase in the number of children coming into the care of local authorities, and I know that support workers and others work incredibly hard to give children and young people in care the best start in life. This growth, however, has resulted in significant financial pressures on local authorities, with expenditure on children and families being, on average, the second largest area of spend for councils in Wales. Many local authorities are facing challenges with recruitment and the growing cost of residential care. So, may I ask the Minister, with the expectation that, sadly, more children and families will require support from their local councils in the coming year, what priority will this area of spend have in the forthcoming budget? Diolch yn fawr iawn.

Thank you very much for raising this important issue, and it was an issue that was actually raised with me on my grand summer tour of local authorities and it's certainly something that is of significant concern to some of those authorities. And our programme for government does commit us to ensuring that we fund regional residential services to bring children with complex needs back home from care outside of Wales. I think that will be important both in terms of improving the care available to those children and in terms of the situation for local authorities and their finances.

Spending on children and family services in Wales has increased significantly, by 31.5 per cent from 2015-16 to 2019-20. It's still the case, though, that a large amount of that is spent on children's care home placements. Our focus really has to be on ensuring that children are able to stay with their families, preventing family break-up by funding advocacy services for parents whose children are at risk of coming into care, providing additional specialist support for children with complex needs who might be on the edge of care, and also exploring the radical reform of current services for children who are looked after and care leavers. Those are absolutely critical parts of our programme for government and parts of the discussion I'm having with colleagues as we start to set our budget for the next financial year and the years beyond that. 

13:35

The Minister may remember my remarks prior to recess regarding the Summer of Fun programme, where my question was whether or not funding for this programme was sufficient given the high rates of child obesity in Wales. During the summer recess, I was able to visit an organisation that provided activities for the Summer of Fun in South Wales Central, and I was extremely impressed at the range of activities that they offered. Not only did they provide physical activities, but activities that focused on team building, developing confidence and self-reliance as well.

However, it was during my visit that I was made aware of a major issue, which I would ask the Minister to take on board for the future. Ultimately, those activity providers who had applied for funding to provide the Summer of Fun only received notification of the success of their bids four days before they were due to start. This made the process of filling spaces for activities quite chaotic, and gave some families too little time to organise themselves. This resulted in spaces being allocated but children not being able to make the activity. As such, this meant that the course was full even though, ultimately, there were spaces available on the day, which families could have taken advantage of had they known. I therefore ask if the Minister could carefully consider the timing of the funding for 2022, so that activity providers and families can maximise the opportunities available to them. Thank you.

I thank the Member for those points, and I do think that they are well made in terms of the importance of giving local authorities adequate notice of funding that will be available to support various programmes. I share his enthusiasm, though, for what he saw in terms of the activities that took place this year in terms of the Summer of Fun. I think local authorities did a great job, alongside other partners, pulling together some fantastic schemes to ensure that children and young people had an opportunity to enjoy themselves, to meet other people, to get outdoors and do things that they hadn't been able to do for a long time. 

Alongside that, of course, we have our school holiday enrichment programme, which has been tremendously successful, and some local authorities also undertake different schemes that seek to address holiday hunger and support families to undertake activities during parts of the year when the children aren't at school. Obviously, I'll take on board that important comment about the timing of funding and I will be considering how we can support these kinds of projects as we move forward. 

Questions Without Notice from Party Spokespeople

Questions now from the party spokespeople. The Conservative spokesperson, Sam Rowlands.

Diolch, Llywydd, and good afternoon, Minister. How would you describe the current relationship that councils have with Natural Resources Wales?

Well, I think that the current relationship that councils have with Natural Resources Wales is very useful because they both have shared concerns in terms of ensuring that our environment and our approach to climate change is very much at the heart of both agendas—there are shared agendas there. But if my colleague has any particular concerns, I'd be happy to take them up with NRW or the Welsh Local Government Association as appropriate. 

Thank you very much for your response, Minister. As you'll be aware, at the start of July, the leaders of Wales's 22 local authorities called on Welsh Government to review the powers and remit of the public body responsible for looking after the environment here in Wales—Natural Resources Wales. And as you'll be aware, my colleague Janet Finch-Saunders raised this issue with the Minister for Climate Change in July as well, who welcomed the feedback from the WLGA and stated that she'd be having continued discussion with the WLGA and Natural Resources Wales through you as the local government Minister. So, I hope those discussions are going well. But do you think councils have the ability to deliver some of the responsibilities that currently sit with Natural Resources Wales?

13:40

Well, we've always said that we will look to devolve powers to the correct level of governance, and there are certainly areas where we could look to devolve further powers from Welsh Government to local authorities. But, again, if this is a particular area where there are ideas that come from the WLGA, in partnership with Natural Resources Wales, then I'd be interested in hearing those shared ideas and concerns.

Thank you for that as well, Minister. As you know, one of the issues that councils have raised within their correspondence with Welsh Government is the difficulty to hold Natural Resources Wales to account at times. In the letter from the leaders of the 22 councils I referred to, written by the leader of the WLGA, Andrew Morgan, they state in that, and I'll quote,

'when dealing with events at a local level there can still be tensions over decisions and choices that have to be made, related to wider governance issues.'

And furthermore, in relation to severe flooding events seen in recent times, in Rhondda in particular, local members have stated that there's a possibility of legal action taking place against Natural Resources Wales. So, there seems to me a deficiency of democracy in holding Natural Resources Wales to account at time. And because of the democratic nature of councils, if councils held some of the functions that currently sit in Natural Resources Wales, do you think there'd be greater accountability and transparency?

I'm aware of the letter to which you refer and the concerns around the Rhondda issue in particular, which is why I'm reluctant to go into too much more detail in terms of a response to that particular issue this afternoon. But I will endeavour to have some discussions further with the Minister for Climate Change in terms of the points that you've raised this afternoon and those concerns that the WLGA I know have raised directly with her.

Thank you very much, Llywydd. We know, of course, that local authorities have suffered increasing cuts over the past decade—cuts of around 22 per cent in real terms since 2010. Now, we also hear what the implications of that are in terms of services, and in that regard, of course, most recently in terms of social care. Now, I'm sure everyone across the Chamber, and the political spectrum, would agree that there are insufficient funds in the system to meet the need, and to meet that need with the required quality.

We heard the Westminster Government's response last week. Their choice is to increase national insurance, and that will, of course, impact us in Wales. One of the side effects of that, of course, is that there'll be a requirement for employers in Wales to pay an additional share of that national insurance. And I heard in a meeting today with the WLGA that the price of that for local authorities in Wales will be an additional £50 million, which they will have to find to meet that need. Now, in a situation where the public sector, of course, is already under pressure financially, I would like to ask you how you interpret what the implications of that would be for local authorities, and, more specifically, what additional support you as a Government will be providing to local authorities to meet that additional requirement?

Thank you for raising this important issue this afternoon. I think there's a great deal to be concerned about in terms of the UK Government's approach to the future funding of health and social care, not least because the measures will disproportionately impact and burden working-age people. Most pensioners, of course, will pay nothing. And this, of course, is contrary to the principle of inter-generational fairness, which is at the heart—or certainly part of the heart—of the work that the Holtham Commission undertook.

In terms of what funding might become available for Welsh Government in future, we understand that the Barnett consequential arising from the recent announcements might be in the region of around £600 million a year. But what we don't know is what the impact really is in terms of the larger picture, because, of course, the Barnett consequentials give and they also take away. So, we'll have to wait until 27 October before we're able to see the full envelope for Welsh Government funding for the next three years. And it's at that point that we'll really be able to understand the impact in terms of our overall funding levels and to take those choices about support for local government. But I've already said that, in our early discussions about the budget for next year, we will continue to prioritise health and continue to look to give local government the best possible settlement.  

13:45

Well, yes, thank you for that. Perhaps we don't know how much will come to Wales, but we know that there will be a significant cost for employers and local authorities. That's one aspect of the public sector, of course. You can multiply that across the rest of the public sector in Wales as well. So, I would encourage you to consider additional support specifically for that. 

Now, as a society, of course, we have deputised care to those on the lowest level of wages in Wales, and those who receive the lowest level of support, and that can't continue. There are around 64,000 social care workers in Wales. Each one of them, in our opinion, deserve the pay and conditions that reflect the importance of the role that they fulfil for society. We, as a party, have been calling for all social care to be free of charge at the point where it is needed. Also, to introduce a minimum wage of £10 an hour for social care workers, and to shift the funding towards preventative investments that would, of course, transform the requirements within the health system in the long term. Now, the cost of implementing those policies is affordable, but, of course, we need the political will to make that happen. 

It was announced yesterday that an inter-ministerial group on paying for social care will meet again in light of the UK Government's announcement. So, can I ask what the scope of that group's work will be? Perhaps you can expand on that. And, of course, can you be clear on whether it will only be considering paying for care alone? Or, whether there'll be a discussion on how we can use that funding to improve the quality of the care and the well-being of the workforce. Because another message that we receive from local authorities is that, yes, the funding is a problem, but people are a problem as well. And there is a deficit in the workforce and that's just as much of a risk.  

I think there are two things that we need to do here. The first is to address the immediate pressures that we see within the social care sector here in Wales, which are quite acute now, and you will have heard my colleague, the Minister for health, talking about the impact that has on people being discharged from hospital and so on. So, there's an immediate issue in terms of the social care sector. Part of that is about pay, part of it's about recognition and the kudos of the role. Despite the fact that I think that everybody has woken up to the value of these roles over the past couple of years, we need to make sure that these are roles that people want to go into, which are valued and are valued in the way in which we intend to value through the real living wage, for example. And you'll know that the Deputy Minister for Social Partnership has met with the forum, and asked for the views and recommendations on implementing the real living wage so that we don't do so in a way which destabilises even further the very fragile sector. So, that's the immediate challenge, really, in terms of the workforce.

But that longer term challenge is the one which we were seeking to address through the inter-ministerial group pre COVID, and that was in response to the work which Professor Holtham did in his report, which set out ways in which we could raise funding for social care in the future. And we had a number of additional pieces of work alongside that, which we commissioned, which we published through the course of the last Senedd, which, again, set out potential ways in which we could address the future of care. 

I can assure you that the group has looked beyond how we pay for care and the mechanisms of raising the finance and distributing the finance. It was very much about how we use this opportunity to improve care, improve the experience of the workforce. Because we know that when the workforce feels valued it stays, and when people are seeing the same people every day that gives an improvement to the kind of care and relationships and the outcomes for those individuals. So, I just want to reassure you that all of those points, which you've described, are very much part of the work. It's not just about raising the finance. 

In the hope, of course, that there will be a gear change in terms of how quickly these issues are solved, because, as you say, there are problems and there are pressures that we need to deal with, as well as the structural questions that are more long term. 

You referred earlier on to some of the groups and the sectors that will be impacted negatively by the decision of the Westminster Government to increase national insurance contributions, and perhaps I'd like to hear some of your ideas now about how you as a Government will try to rectify those negative impacts on those who will be affected disproportionately. And, of course, as is done in Scotland, it's time for us to build the case for devolving powers over national insurance to this Senedd, rather than leaving it up to Westminster to introduce the changes in a way that will have a negative impact on people in Wales. Now, the First Minister agreed with Adam Price here in this Chamber yesterday that devolving national insurance would provide a useful tool for the Welsh Government. And if I remember rightly, he said that he would have argued that that would have been more useful than the devolution of income tax. Can I ask what your opinion is, as Minister for finance, about the need to be robust on devolving national insurance, and also what case are you making to promote that with the Westminster Government?

13:50

Well, you’ll be very aware of the work which was undertaken by the committee in the last Senedd which recommended the devolution of various aspects of the administration of the welfare and benefits system here in Wales. This is absolutely something that we can be looking at. I think we need to understand better the nature of the workforce here in Wales to understand the impacts of any changes on national insurance contributions in terms of the profile, if you like, of the workers that we have here. But, obviously, it’s something that we can look at alongside the work which we’re already undertaking in terms of the response to that report, which recommended that we look into the devolution of various aspects of welfare and benefits.

Additional Funding in England

3. What consideration will the Welsh Government give to the impact on Wales of possible additional NHS and social care funding in England when allocating funding to the health and social services portfolio? OQ56802

Funding for health and social care has always been a priority in Wales, highlighted by the additional £550 million provided in August to support recovery. We acknowledge the additional funding resulting from UK Government decisions, however the outcome of the comprehensive spending review will be the basis for our budgetary allocations. 

I thank the Minister for that response and, as we’ve heard already today in this Senedd Chamber, what we’re seeing in effect is a classic pickpocket trick—somebody is smiling in your face whilst taking the money out of the back pocket of local authorities; out of employers, some of whom will be employing care staff; and out of low-paid staff themselves in care and in the NHS. So, it is a terrible trick to play on people, but they’re smiling while they do it.

But could I ask: do we have any idea about the timescale for the reporting of the inter-ministerial group which has now been reformed? We’ve done so much work in Wales already, well ahead of any consideration they’ve given to this matter in England. We have our ideas in place. In fact, we’ve already put some of them in place, such as reducing the cost on care charges and the amount you can keep on your own residential property. But there’s a lot to be done, including raising the wages of those who deliver care. When are we likely to see the outcome of the deliberations of the inter-ministerial group?

Huw Irranca-Davies, obviously, is right that we are many steps ahead of the UK Government in terms of the thinking that we’ve done on this issue and, of course, Huw was the original chair of that inter-ministerial group which pulled together interests from across Government to ensure that we were considering this in a very holistic way, not just, as I said previously, looking at how we raise and distribute the finance.

And again he’s right that we have taken steps which put people in Wales, actually, at an advantage as compared to people in England, because here we have the weekly maximum on the amount that a person can be charged for all of the care and support that they are assessed as requiring at home and in the community. The money that people can keep before paying for care is also much higher here than it is in England.

So, we’re many steps ahead already, but the challenge ahead, I think, as I know Huw Irranca-Davies appreciates, is huge in terms of our ageing population and so on. So, we’ll bring that group together very quickly. We did meet just before the end of the Senedd term, so this isn’t a piece of work which has been on the shelf for a while. Actually, we kept it going right to the end of the Senedd, so it’s just a case of reconvening and picking up where we left off.

Good afternoon, Minister. Thanks to the actions of the UK Government, Wales will get more than its fair share of the additional national insurance contributions. The additional levy on NI and dividends have been ring-fenced for health and social care spending. How will the Welsh Government ensure that the £0.7 billion that Wales will receive as a result of the UK Government's funding reforms will make it to front-line services? Do you believe that the funding raised via the social care levy should by hypothecated and not form part of the revenue support grant given to local authorities? You've been calling for extra funds, and now you've got them, it's high time that you damn well get on with it and set out your plans for social care, because you've not done thus far.

13:55

No, you don't. Okay. Answer the substantive points of the question, please, Minister.

I will, and I'll inform the Member that Wales actually doesn't get more than its fair share; on a good day we get our fair share. I'm very interested that the Member seems to be opposed to the funding that Wales gets as a result of our unique social and economic position, and the negotiations that the First Minister previously did, to ensure that Wales had its fair share in terms of Barnett consequentials. But if you think Wales is getting its fair share when we get nothing when Northern Ireland gets a £1 billion bung, then I really don't understand whether you're fighting for the UK Government here or whether you're fighting for your constituents.

Strategic and Economic Development

4. Will the Minister make a statement on the budget allocated to delivering strategic and economic development planning in south-east Wales? OQ56829

We are undertaking a full and comprehensive spending review for capital investment programmes across Wales. This will consider all costs associated with the planning of strategic and economic development and will feed into our new Wales infrastructure and investment strategy that I will publish alongside the budget in December.

I'm grateful to you for that response, Minister. I think on this side of the Chamber we certainly don't think that Wales gets anything like its fair share of resources and funding from the current United Kingdom Government. But in terms of how we spend our resources, one of the lessons I think we will learn over the coming weeks, months and years, looking back over the pandemic, is the way that the Welsh Government has been able to lead a holistic response from the whole of the public sector. And I think one of the lessons that I've certainly seen across—not just in my constituency, but here, looking at the Welsh Government response across the whole country, has been that that whole holistic public sector response has been enormously powerful. The track and trace system here compared with the catastrophic disaster across the border in England is possibly the best, but not the only example.

So, therefore, Minister, how will you look at the management of different footprints in local government, in the health service, with policing as well as Welsh Government services? Because the lesson I've learnt, which I didn't expect to learn over the last year, is that perhaps Gwent worked far better than we anticipated.

Thank you very much for raising that point and for recognising the incredible work of the Welsh public sector in terms of responding to the pandemic. You'll be familiar with the report that was published a little while back now that looked at the various footprints, in particular the regional partnership boards and the other public services boards and so forth, which are there to serve the people of Wales and to bring people together to work in a collaborative and partnership-based way. That report set out a number of recommendations that we are looking at, but we're very clear that any changes to those footprints have to be from the ground up. I'm very pleased to hear that you feel that Gwent pulled together in a particularly good way, and I think part of that is about the good relationships that are built up between those people who genuinely care about their constituents and their communities and their local authorities, and care about doing a good job for them.

Good afternoon, Minister. Minister, Monmouthshire County Council has a series of ambitious plans, including the Monmouthshire 2040 document, 'supporting MCC economies of the future' report, as well as its critical role played in the Cardiff capital region city deal, for economically developing the Monmouth constituency. But what's holding Monmouthshire back, and many other councils across Wales, is the lack of certainty regarding funding. And, as you know, local authorities have repeatedly called for multi-year settlements, which enable them to plan more strategically and to develop their economic planning long term. Now that we know, or it's likely, the UK Government spending review on 27 October will announce a multi-year review, will you be able to make a statement now about—can we extend that same multi-year budgeting or settlement to local government across Wales? That statement now, on the back of what could come from UK Government on the twenty-seventh, would be really welcome, as we've just heard from local government leaders only a few minutes ago.

14:00

Yes, we've been calling for multi-year settlements too, alongside local government in Wales, for many years. I think it was 2017 when we were last able to publish a budget for more than one financial year. We understand that the next one will be for three years, and absolutely it would be the intention to pass the certainty that we get on to public services here in Wales, in order to allow them to have that opportunity to plan ahead with greater confidence.

Free Ports

5. What assessment of the tax implications for Wales has the Minister made of the UK Government's freeports policy? OQ56832

Whilst we are willing to engage constructively with the UK Government on this issue, we still haven't received a formal proposal from the UK Government to establish a free port in Wales. Hence, in the absence of detail, we're unable to assess fully the tax implications of the policy.

I thank you for that answer, Minister, but I'm not at all surprised by it. I have put on record my doubts about free ports. I'm not convinced of the economic argument, and I have concerns relating to the environment, and also to any labour standards that go alongside that. But what I am sure of, however, is that Wales must not be short changed, our key strategic ports like Milford Haven must not be disadvantaged, and policies must not be imposed on us by the UK Government. So, has there been any progress on these issues since July, which is when you last outlined the details coming out—or lack of details coming out—from UK Ministers?

There's been no real progress since July, unfortunately. And, in frustration, in August, I wrote a joint letter with Ministers from the other devolved Governments to the Chief Secretary to the Treasury seeking an urgent meeting on free ports, and I'm very disappointed that we have yet to receive a response to that, and disappointed, really, with the general lack of engagement from the UK Government on this policy. As I say, we do remain committed to working collaboratively with the UK Government on free ports, although we do share Joyce Watson's concerns about displacement of activity, for example.

There are three things that are really important if we are to work with the UK Government on this, the first being joint decision making between the UK Government and the Welsh Government in terms of where those ports will be and what the parameters of the deal will be—conditionality, because, like Joyce Watson, we are really concerned about the effect of free ports, potentially, on standards. So, it's important that any free ports in Wales reflect our values and our priorities in terms of environmental standards, but also fair work, for example. And, crucially, it's important that we do receive a fair funding settlement. So, clearly, this is a place-based intervention for which the Barnett consequential just isn't an appropriate way forward. It would not be appropriate for UK Government to be spending £25 million on a free port in England, but only £8 million in Wales, for no other reason than they think that a Barnett share is appropriate.

Minister, manufacturing accounts for just 10 per cent of the UK's gross domestic product, which is amongst the lowest of all countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Increasing manufacturing can boost national earnings, and the value of free ports lies in its power to boost economic activity and create new job opportunities in areas of deprivation. A report by the consultancy Mace said that free ports could boost trade by £12 billion a year, increase UK GDP by £9 billion a year and create 150,000 new jobs. I know you just mentioned three points in the previous answer of what you were looking to do and achieve, but do you accept, Minister, that any initial reduction in tax revenue caused by free ports will be offset by the benefits of greater economic activity in deprived areas, more jobs and increased trade, thereby growing the economy as a whole? Thank you.

As yet we haven't had those discussions with the UK Government, because they haven't yet responded to our letter from August seeking that urgent meeting. But I think it's fair to say that any kind of open-ended commitment by the Welsh Government to match the UK Government's offer in terms of non-domestic rates and stamp duty land tax, or land transaction tax as it is in Wales, would present a risk to Welsh tax revenues until we have those discussions to better understand the policy that the UK Government intends to implement. And we are more than ready to have those discussions, but, as yet, we haven't even had a reply to a simple letter.

The Land Transaction Tax

6. Will the Minister make a statement on the impact of the land transaction tax? OQ56810

Since April 2018, land transaction tax has raised over £800 million. The funds raised have been used to fund our valued public services, including investment in social housing.

Thank you much for that response. Last year, your Government raised the higher rate of the land transaction tax by 1 per cent in order to try and tackle the second homes crisis. At that point, up to 44 per cent of the homes sold in my constituency of Dwyfor Meirionydd were second homes. We in Plaid Cymru warned at that point that that 1 per cent was far from being sufficient and that it would have no impact at all on the housing market. This year again, we have seen that up to 44 per cent of the homes sold in Dwyfor Meirionydd are second homes. Indeed, in your own constituency of Gower, it increased from 24 per cent to 29 per cent. Now, it is time that we saw far more effective changes. Isn't it time for you to consider at least trebling the land transaction tax in order to make a real difference and to devolve that funding to our local authorities so that they can use the funds to build social housing and affordable housing in our communities?

14:05

Well, funding from land transaction tax already supports local authorities and others in terms of supporting our agenda for building more social homes. But I do have to say there are a couple of things that I do need to put on record. So, the additional rate at the moment stands 4 percentage points on top of the main rates for land transaction tax. So, the most recent announcement was an additional, permanent 1 per cent on top of the 3 per cent.

I also think it's important that we portray the figures in terms of house sales and transactions correctly. So, it's not always possible to tell whether properties that are subject to the higher rates were already in one of those categories to which higher rates already applied before the transaction. So, therefore, the transaction may not change the nature of the ownership of the property. For example, a transaction may be from one private holiday home owner to another private holiday home owner, but it also might be from a buy-to-let landlord who's providing a rental property for a local member of the community to another buy-to-let landlord. So, I do think it's important to reflect the figures correctly. They're not all second homes; it's impossible to say that.

It's also important that the figures relate not to the entire stock of the area as well, only to those properties that have been sold. That's not to diminish the fact that I understand that second home purchases are a significant problem and issue in many communities, but I do think it's important that when we are reflecting on the figures we do so in a way that shows the wider picture.

Speaking here in February, I stated that

'the Welsh Government's increased land transaction tax higher rates, which hit large numbers of legitimate small and medium-sized businesses, many of them with properties near the internal UK border with England, are higher than equivalent stamp duty land tax higher rates in England for purchase prices up to just £125,000, and higher for all purchase prices in England above just £180,000...even after the higher rates holiday introduced by the UK Government in response to the COVID pandemic comes to an end'.

Further, higher rates of land transaction tax are levied on the purchase of properties to rent, as well as second homes. How do you therefore respond to the constituent who e-mailed last week, 'I have a small holiday let business, and the house next door to me came on the market, being sold through a local estate agent. I wish to renovate it and use it as a holiday let, not a second home. I've found that it is subject to a large amount of land transaction stamp duty. The house is not habitable and I'm trying to encourage people to visit Wales and bolster the economy'?

I think that the situation that Mark Isherwood has described does show that there are many factors at play here in terms of people's motivations to buy properties. We've taken the deliberate decision to try and increase the higher rate of land transaction tax, because we're very interested in supporting individuals in communities to be able to buy their home to live in. That's our primary concern in that regard, although we do understand the importance of tourism to many communities in Wales. It's a very difficult balance, but we're very keen to ensure that people are able to find affordable housing to live in in their own communities. Part of that's about using tax. I think that it's possible, sometimes, to overestimate the impact that land transaction tax will have on behaviour; it's fundamentally a revenue-raising tax, of course. But there are several items at play here. It's important that we consider planning. It's important that we consider how much more we can invest in social housing. It's important that we consider how we can work with residential landlords and others to leverage investment into this particular agenda. So, there are many, many aspects here. It's partly about supply of housing, partly about planning, but it's also about how we use the other tools at our disposal. No one of these is going to solve this problem on its own. 

14:10
Income Tax

7. Will the Minister provide an update on the Welsh Government’s income tax policy? OQ56813

We have committed not to take more in Welsh rates of income tax from Welsh families for at least as long as the economic impact of coronavirus lasts. All of our taxes are informed by our tax principles, which are set out in our tax policy framework and which include being clear, stable and simple and supporting delivery of Welsh Government policy objectives, and, in particular, supporting jobs and growth.

Thank you, Minister. I wish to endorse the points that have already been made by other Members today, namely that the United Kingdom Government's decision to raise national insurance is unfair as it will have an unequal impact on people on low incomes.

In terms of income tax, your Government has the ability to vary the rates within the bands but not the power to introduce new bands. But the Scottish Government has this power, and in 2018 they introduced two new bands, namely the additional intermediate rate for middle-income earners and a starter rate for those on low incomes, which is a penny less than the basic rate. I would like to hear, Minister, your view of the possibility of introducing a starter rate here in Wales, as this could be one practical way of mitigating the impact of the increase in national insurance on those people who receive an income significantly below the average. Would the Minister be in favour of devolving this power and, if so, would she also be in favour of introducing a starter rate of income tax for those earning less than £15,000 per annum, as in Scotland? And if not, could you explain the reason for that, please?

Well, you're absolutely right to say that the raising of national insurance contributions does have a differential impact as compared to that which would have been achieved by raising rates of income tax, partly because of the way in which the thresholds sit. So, you start paying your national insurance contributions when you're earning at a lower threshold. And of course income tax does include things like pensions and rental income and other things, which often people who are on the lower end of the economic spectrum aren't able to raise anyway. So, it is not a fair way to raise money for this particular agenda, I believe.

As you say, we don't have those powers here in Wales. We have the three bands, which we are currently maintaining at the same level because, as I say, we don't want to put additional burdens on individuals and families at this point. And we'll certainly keep this approach as long as the economic impact of the coronavirus is felt. 

Local Taxes

8. Will the Minister explain the purpose of the current consultation on local taxes for second homes and self-catering accommodation? OQ56822

This consultation implements one of the actions set out in our three‑pronged approach to address the impact of second homes on communities in Wales. It seeks views on potential changes to local taxes, including local authorities' powers to apply council tax premiums and the criteria for defining self-catering accommodation as non-domestic property. 

The housing crisis, including the second homes crisis, is having a destructive impact on communities the length and breadth of Wales. I welcome this consultation of course, but it would be only part of the solution in tackling the issues contained within this consultation. I'm sure you'd agree with me on that. But, in terms of the consultation itself, when exactly will the recommendations that are drawn up as a result of this consultation be implemented? Can you give us an idea of the timetable around this consultation and what the next steps will be, because we must take urgent action? I'm sure you would agree with that too.

Yes, I agree that this is only part of the picture and that action is required urgently, because we know that there are communities in Wales really feeling the pressure in this regard. It's why we've taken some early action, such as the additional 1 per cent on the higher rate of land transaction tax, for example, but there's work going on at this point as well in terms of developing the Welsh language strategy for communities, and part of that, really, is about ensuring that people are able to stay in their Welsh language communities and be able to buy a home there.

So, there are several things happening at once. It's not my intention to spend a long time deliberating on the views that come forward. I know that we're going to have a really wide spectrum of views, from people who are completely opposed to any changes, to people who would prefer us to have an approach that made it even easier to buy second homes, right the way through to people who have a view on the other end of the spectrum. Obviously, all views are welcome and we will be considering them, but I don't want to spend more time than is necessary. Obviously, I understand the urgency of this particular issue.

14:15

Diolch, Llywydd. Minister, after one of the busiest seasons ever experienced in Llandudno and north Wales, following the dreadful pandemic, we should instead be thanking our holiday-let operators for the immense economic benefit that they bring to our communities and our tourism offer. This benefit was even recognised in Dr Simon Brooks's report, and must be accepted by this Welsh Labour administration. I know I'm not alone in rejecting the constant flow of negative and belittling comments aimed at our second home owners and self-catering accommodation owners. Many now see this as the Plaid Cymru nationalist stance of being anti-tourist, anti-business and anti-ambition, and quite frankly, Plaid, you need to get another pea in your whistle.

Second homes and holiday lets make up around 3 per cent of housing stock in Conwy, with around 1,182 properties estimated to be eligible for chargeable council tax premium during 2020-21. Local authorities have rightly been hesitant to increase these premiums—a good move for our economy. This tool was actually intended to bring long-term empty properties back into use, but this has not been achieved, because as you well know, Minister, the Government targets have been missed year on year.

The current regressive stance taken by the Welsh Government against our private landlords, however, is only now serving to push them towards the more lucrative market of holiday-let accommodation. The question that does need to be asked today is: what plans does your Government have to reincentivise our private landlords, so as to allow them to remain in the private sector rather than moving over into holiday-let accommodation? Diolch, Llywydd.

First of all, I'd like to begin by recognising the tremendous importance of the tourism sector to many parts of Wales. It's the absolute lifeblood of many communities and we want to be sure that we provide everybody with a warm welcome when they come to visit us in Wales, so that they want to come back, and do so year after year. I also think it's important that we see seek to have balanced communities, so communities where people can, as I've said in this session already, remain in their communities and find an affordable home, but also in communities where tourism is really important that we're able to ensure that we have plenty of offer for those tourists as well. So, it's a difficult balance, but I think some of the work that we're doing around the pilot work, looking for communities to work with us there will be important, because all communities are unique in so many ways.

Private landlords do have an important part to play in terms of our housing stock in here in Wales. It's a positive choice for people who want to rent and we've done good work in the past years in terms of Rent Smart Wales and the work that we've done there to try and ensure that the offer from private landlords is a quality offer for individuals here in Wales, and to ensure that that sector does provide a really important and useful part of the housing options for people for whom renting is the right choice. It is a positive choice for many people, so we need to ensure that it's a good experience for them.

2. Questions to the Minister for Rural Affairs and North Wales, and Trefnydd

The next questions are for the Minister for Rural Affairs and North Wales, and Trefnydd, and I call first of all for question 1 from Vikki Howells.

Animal Welfare

1. Will the Minister provide an update on Welsh Government actions to improve animal welfare in Wales over the course of this Senedd term? OQ56805

9. What measures will the Minister propose to strengthen the protection of animals in Wales during the current Senedd term? OQ56824

Member
Lesley Griffiths MS 14:19:55
Minister for Rural Affairs and North Wales, and Trefnydd

Llywydd, I understand you have given your permission for questions 1 and 9 to be grouped.

There are several commitments in the Welsh Government's programme for government relating to animal health and welfare in Wales. I have also announced my intention to publish an animal welfare plan for Wales, which will span the term of this Government's office.

14:20

Thank you, Minister. I was really pleased to see Lucy's law, the ban on third-party sales of puppies and kittens, come into effect earlier this month. I want to pay tribute to all the campaigners who supported this law, and place on record my thanks to you for delivering this important intervention. Can you update Members on the engagement that has taken place with businesses, breeders, et cetera, to make sure that they're aware of and compliant with the new rules?

Thank you very much. Well, I was certainly very pleased also to see the regulations that were passed on 23 March, then followed by—. Obviously, we had that six-month transition period to ensure that pet shop owners, for instance, were able to consider a different operating model, so they could mitigate any potential impact. But I was very pleased to see the legislation come in.

Whilst the legislation doesn't allow commercial third parties to sell puppies and kittens under six months of age, it is difficult to police those breeders who breed below that threshold, so I think it's really important that we continue to ensure that our local authorities have the ability to be able to use their discretion, for instance, to look at business cases that come forward, so that they can test if breeders have bred the animals themselves or if they're selling them for someone else, because that obviously then would breach the regulations. The scope of the regulations is very clearly set out in the legislation. I thought that was really important.

We've continued to work in partnership. We haven't just sat back and waited for this legislation to come forward. We've continued to work in partnership with local authorities. You'll be aware of the enforcement pilot project that we had, and the joint working group with the Animal Welfare Network for Wales and the Companion Animal Welfare Group Wales. We worked in partnership during the drafting of those regulations. We also continue to work closely with local authorities around the project that I referred to earlier, to ensure there are no other potential barriers to enforcement. And we're once again—. In my house, we're not allowed to use the 'c' word until December, but I am going to promote that, once again, ahead of Christmas we will as a Government be promoting Paws, Prevent, Protect to make sure that purchasers really think very carefully before they purchase a pet before Christmas.

Minister, the COVID lockdown has seen a rise in the number of pets being stolen, with the result that pet abduction is to be made a criminal offence in England. Theft of a pet is currently treated as a loss of the owner's property under the Theft Act of 1968, but this does not adequately recognise the great emotional distress that this can cause to the owner, and also the pet. What action will you be taking, Minister, to keep the law on pet theft in Wales in line with England to ensure that pet owners here enjoy the same protection as those across the border? Thank you. 

The theft of pets is obviously a criminal act, and it is a reserved matter, as you say, under the Theft Act 1968. You'll be aware, I'm sure, of the pet theft taskforce that DEFRA have brought forward, so my officials have been working very closely with their counterparts in DEFRA to make sure that we can collaborate. I think we have certainly seen more cases of pet theft during the pandemic. I've got a member of my own family that's increased security at their home because of their concerns around pet theft, so I think it is really important that we continue to work collaboratively with DEFRA.

Following the saga of Geronimo, the alpaca, and all the fuss about culling one alpaca when there are 10,000 cattle being culled for the same reason in Wales every year—there are 10,000 Geronimos killed in Wales every year, to all intents and purposes—do you agree that that says a great deal about the lack of understanding that there is amongst the public in terms of the reality of bovine TB? And does it also suggest to you, perhaps, that people don't appreciate how difficult tackling TB is in Wales, and that that does mean taking difficult decisions when dealing with this disease in wild animals?

I think it's like anything in life: if you're really involved with an issue, then obviously your understanding is better. Certainly, there was a huge amount of media interest, as you say, in the case of Geronimo. It is really important that we continue to do all we can to get rid of this dreadful disease.

I will be bringing forward a refresh of the TB eradication programme. As you know, I report annually to this Chamber every year on our TB eradication programme, and I think I will be making a statement to this Chamber in November. Over the summer, I took the opportunity to meet with Glyn Hewinson, who is an academic based at Aberystwyth University, who I know Llyr Huws Gruffydd is aware of, to hear about not just the research but about vaccination for cattle, for instance. When I first met Glyn, he always told me that vaccination for cattle in relation to TB was 10 years away. We now think that's about four years away, so you can see the progress that we are making.

14:25

Anyone who has not been barred by a court can buy an animal. There are no tests for ownership, no statutory instructions of how to look after animals. Is it any surprise that so many animals are badly treated, not always because people want to badly treat them, but due to ignorance? Will the Government introduce some online instructions and tests for those seeking to buy different animals as pets, which would then have to be passed prior to purchase, so people know what they're doing when they take on an animal? And maybe sometimes they'll decide not to buy it because of the amount of work it involves.

Obviously, responsible ownership of animals is something that we have a keen interest in as a Government, and it's a priority, I know, for the Wales animal health and welfare framework group. I'm not sure testing those people who purchase animals is the right approach. I wonder who would be the target audience, for instance. I wonder who would police it. What I do think is important is that we look at regulation, we look at enforcement of animal welfare.

Last week, I attended the new Dogs Trust facility in Cardiff, where I launched the ban on commercial third-party sales of puppies and kittens, and I was very interested to know—. I knew that the Dogs Trust, if you had a dog from them—if they re-homed a dog with you—they continued to offer support. What I didn't realise was that they are open to supporting anyone who takes in a re-homed pet for approximately four weeks, I think the course is. So, I think it's really important that we take advantage of schemes like that also. 

I mentioned the social media campaign that we will be running ahead of Christmas again this year; I think this will be third Christmas that we have done this. Again, I think it's really important that we remind prospective purchasers that they need to do some research before they buy their puppy or any other pets. It's really important that we work collaboratively, particularly with third sector organisations—I mentioned Dogs Trust, but we do work, obviously, with other charities and organisations—and make sure that there's really excellent information and research out there for the public to look at.

Intensive Poultry Units

2. What assessment has the Welsh Government made of the environmental impact of intensive poultry units in Mid and West Wales? OQ56831

Thank you. The Welsh Government is taking a holistic approach to assessing and mitigating the environmental impact of intensive poultry units across Wales, through improved planning processes and regulation, partnership working and supporting the industry through knowledge transfer programmes and financial support.

I thank you for that answer, but according to research by Wildlife Trust Wales, Powys now has more than 150 intense poultry units, housing an estimated 10 million chickens. As a result, an extra 2,000 tonnes of phosphate a year are estimated to be spread onto land in the Wye catchment area. Last September, I asked you for an update on the intensive agriculture working group that was looking at planning guidance for new poultry developments, and you assured me that it was a matter of urgency. And I agree it is, even more so now a year later. Last month, your colleague the Minister for Climate Change wrote to me to assure me that work to understand the source of phosphate pollution in special areas of conservation rivers is under way, and I really welcome that. Given the urgency of the situation, however, can you outline the time frame for that work, please? Will you consider pressing pause on all planning permission for new or extended poultry units until the environmental and community impact of the existing units are fully assessed and understood?  

Thank you. As you recognised, that work now sits in the portfolio of the Minister for Climate Change, but I understand the apportionment work is expected to be completed by the end of this year. I know her officials and my officials have worked very closely with Natural Resources Wales to be able to monitor the progress of that project. Local planning authorities are already legally prevented from granting planning permission if they're uncertain about whether a development, either individually or alongside a combination of others, will add phosphates to the SAC waters, where targets have been exceeded.

14:30

Minister, on back British and Welsh farming day, I would just like to personally thank all the farmers across Brecon and Radnorshire for the absolutely amazing work they do in protecting our environment and also having food security. But, Minister, farm businesses have had to diversify, due to ever-changing landscapes, and many farmers have had to diversify into the poultry industry as a source of income to subsidise their businesses. Those farmers do their utmost to protect the environment for future generations while protecting our food security. However, Minister, these farming families are continuously attacked by the media, by politicians and by lobby groups who try to push the blame straight onto farmers for poor water quality. Only on the weekend, Dŵr Cymru were pumping raw sewage into the River Usk again and nothing is done to tackle that. So, Minister, can you please tell me what you're going to do to protect those farmers who are continuously being blamed by the media so that we actually start to deal in facts rather than fiction? Diolch, Llywydd.

I think it's very important we deal with facts and not fiction. I hear what you say about Dŵr Cymru. I'm not aware of the circumstances around it, but you've now put it on the record and I will certainly follow that up, because I find it very hard to believe that nothing was done in the way that you outline. I have continually worked with the agricultural sector around pollution. Obviously, you'll be aware there's legal action at the moment around our regulations, so I'm very restricted in what I can say, but I certainly agree with you that we should say a massive thank you to the majority of our farmers who certainly do not pollute our countryside and do ensure that we have food on our plates.

Questions Without Notice from Party Spokespeople

Questions now from the party spokespeople. Conservative spokesperson, Samuel Kurtz.

Diolch, Llywydd. Minister, it was good to welcome you to west Wales in August for the Pembrokeshire County Show. I know your attendance will have been appreciated by the show committee and the exhibitors, and I'm sure you will join with me in congratulating the team on their success with the return of the show, following the cancellation last year. I'm also sure that the Minister will wish to pay tribute to farmers across Wales and Britain today as we mark Back British Farming Day. 

But if we are to truly back our farmers, we must now work to get on top of the bovine TB crisis in Wales. This morning's news that the number of new TB herd incidents in Wales has increased by 3 per cent in comparison to England and Scotland, which have both seen percentage decreases, will not instil Welsh farmers with confidence in the Government's current policy and testing regime. Therefore, what discussions has the Minister had with Neil Watt and Gordon Harkiss from MV Diagnostics Ltd, who have developed an alternative bovine TB test, Enferplex, which claims to deliver more accurate results than the current test? And if no meeting has occurred, will you meet with them to discuss the Enferplex test and offer your support to help progress a pilot scheme, which could pave the way for a new Welsh bovine TB strategy to eradicate the disease once and for all?

Thank you. It was good to see you also, and Cefin Campbell, at the Pembrokeshire show. It was the only agricultural show that we had over the summer recess, ahead of the Usk Show last Saturday. It was good to show support to the many, many volunteers who had ensured that the show went ahead, in a different format from how we usually celebrate. But it was really good to be there, so, yes, I absolutely join you in thanking them all.

In relation to the TB statistics that were published this morning, we've seen a decrease in new incidents during the most recent 12-month period, which is to be welcomed. And you will have heard me saying in an answer before to Llyr that I will be making a statement in this Chamber in November around the refreshed eradication programme.

On the specific question you asked around Neil and Gordon, I've asked my officials to meet with them. I haven't met them myself. Again, I've referred to the meetings I had over the summer with Glyn Hewison, who advises us in the Welsh Government on our TB strategy, but I'm always keen to hear from anybody who has answers on how we can have a significant impact on this dreadful disease.

Thank you, Minister. Yes, you mentioned the vaccine that could be available in four years' time, but this new test, Enferplex, is being delivered on the ground already, so that really does show that there is impetus within the agricultural community to get this issue sorted once and for all.

However, there also remains nervousness within the industry around the future of the Glastir Organic, Commons and Advanced agreements that are due to expire on 13 December this year. These agri-environment schemes play an important role within the Welsh agricultural industry, but farmers are now nervously awaiting an announcement as to whether these contracts will be extended for a further 12 months or more. An extension is not uncommon, and Minister, you said yourself that the Glastir replacement, the sustainable farming scheme, would not be introduced until it is absolutely ready. With the industry having first been told a decision would be expected in July, and then late summer, can you please provide clarity over the renewal of these schemes, to give Welsh farmers some level of certainty?

14:35

The majority of Glastir Advanced, Organic and Commons contracts do expire at the end of this year, and many contracts are already the subject of multiple extensions and renewals as we've gone forward. Since 2017, when the five-year contract period of Glastir Advanced came to an end, the position was to extend contracts as they expired, but, of course, you'll be aware that the EU rural development programme funding and the uncertainty that we have regarding future budget availability means that that really now is no longer an option. I know there is going to be an increased focus on the future of these contracts, but as I say, until I have some surety about funding, I'm unable to make an announcement. 

That will be disappointing for farmers across Wales to hear.

Finally, Minister, I expect many Members across this Chamber would have received a huge range of correspondence from constituents regarding concerns about gaps in Welsh equine ID legislation. Although my colleagues and I have warmly welcomed the mandatory microchipping of horses in Wales, concerns remain about the accuracy of paper passports currently used to trace horses, as well as the low number of microchipped equines entered onto the central equine database. I'm aware that the UK Government is going to be consulting on changes to equine identification and traceability later this year, so what steps are you taking to ensure significant improvements to the system, including the digitisation of equine passports, as the British Horseracing Authority started in July, and providing a frictionless service to safeguard the welfare of horses?

I'm not aware of any correspondence. You referred to quite a large amount of correspondence; certainly nothing's come across my desk. Whether it's in the pipeline, I don't know. But I will have a discussion with the chief veterinary officer, who I know has spoken to the other three chief veterinary officers in the UK around this, and I will write to the Member with the current position.FootnoteLink 

Thank you very much, Llywydd. Having raised with you at the end of the last parliamentary term the need to safeguard the bluefin tuna, I was very pleased to hear back from you, and I quote, saying: 

'I am finalising details for a scientific tuna catch and release tagging pilot project in Wales in 2021.'

Since then, I haven't heard or seen many of the details or dates from you, and the tuna fishing season has started since August. So, I would warmly welcome more details on these proposals.

But there is a real need to take broader action on fisheries and aquaculture in Wales more generally. Having met, around a fortnight ago, with representatives of the Welsh Fishermen's Association, it's clear to me that many opportunities have been missed over the past 10 years to provide a better system in terms of managing Welsh fisheries. The lack of a legal approach to managing fisheries in a sustainable manner, the model that you use to manage the sector, and the lack of specific resources have caused significant delays in providing sustainable fisheries in Welsh waters. After more than 10 years of being responsible for fisheries management, do you agree that it's time to hold an independent review of marine fisheries and aquaculture in Wales, which would evaluate the resources required to provide the science, policy and legislation for the current Senedd and beyond?

In relation to your first question around tuna, as you say, the season only just started really last month. So, I don't think I'm in a position to give any data at the current time, but, obviously, once the season progresses, I'm sure I will be able to do that. 

Your substantive question referred to fishing policy over the last decade, and I really don't recognise the situation that you paint. So, no, I do not think we would need an independent review. Obviously, now we've left the European Union, that does provide an opportunity to have an integrated fishing policy in a way that we haven't done before in Wales that specifically meets the needs of our Welsh fishers and also our coastal communities, because, clearly, the two go very much hand in hand. 

14:40

Thank you very much. I look forward to some sort of internal review on that and a strategy to develop the sector for the future.

Another issue I raised with the Minister prior to recess was the issue of purchasing farmland by major corporations for tree planting, and most of these companies are from outwith Wales, and that land is then used for tree planting rather than food production. Rather than following the principle of the right tree, in the right place, for the right reason, Welsh communities are losing out as any environmental and economic benefits from these steps go to companies from outwith Wales, and they don't remain within local communities. And this is, unfortunately, another example of Welsh resources being exploited by external forces, as has happened over the years with our coal, our water, and our electricity.

Over the summer, unfortunately, it appears that the situation has hastened and accelerated and got worse. And as I've said in the past, if Welsh farmers can't buy land in their own communities when it is available, because they are undermined by multinationals from London, then this will damage the language, culture and heritage of those localities. We know that you've established a national forestry plan, but what steps will you as a Government take to resolve these problems, and to safeguard land and communities in Wales?

You raise a really important point, and I think it's about balance. You did raise this with me, and I've had a discussion with Lee Waters, the Deputy Minister for Climate Change, who you'll be aware did a deep dive into tree planting as a whole. And clearly, the issue of agricultural land being sold to companies, particularly for carbon offsetting, is something that is a concern. But equally, it's very difficult to say to a farmer, 'You should not sell your farmland to this person because of—', and I think that would be a very difficult area for the Government to trespass into.

I did have a discussion with a farmer on a visit over the summer recess, and he highlighted that three farms had been sold off to a multinational company, which I won't name, and his concern around that. But equally, he knew the person who had sold one of the farms, and that person wanted the best money that they could get for it. So again, it's really difficult then for us to have a policy on it. What I do think is really important is that we take every opportunity to make sure that right tree is planted in the right place. That doesn't sit in my portfolio now; even though I've got the funding to buy trees and to encourage farmers to plant trees, it does sit within the climate change directorate. But of course, I will be taking a very close interest in it, and having those further discussions.

Certainly, I can think of very few farmers I've met who object to planting trees. They want to plant trees, they want to look at their hedges and the edges of their farmland, to make sure they use every opportunity they can to help us with that target. And clearly, the national forest is a very long-term project, but I think it's great to see communities wanting to engage. I've had somebody contact me—they've just bought an acre of woodland, and they want that to be part of the national forest. So, I think it has captured the imagination of people, and I'm sure when it's finished it will be as treasured as the coast path is in Wales.

Thank you very much. I accept that that's a difficult balance to strike, but there is an opportunity for the Government to work with farmers in order to highlight the benefits that exist in planting trees. And of course, if the situation in terms of planting trees on farmland gets worse, then it will mean that there is less land available for food production in a sustainable manner.

A recent survey of upland farmers in Wales showed that 95 per cent of those questioned had noted that producing and selling food was either very important or relatively important to their businesses. And the importance of food has far-reaching consequences, way beyond the farm gate, as we've seen over the last summer months, as we've seen the importance of robust supply chains in ensuring that people have a safe, affordable, high-quality supply of food available to them. In order to ensure that supply chains are maintained as locally as possible, we need to promote processing capacity here in Wales. And despite this, from the processing of dairy produce to red meat, we have an extractive economy here in Wales, where produce from Wales is very often taken over the border to England for processing. This all represents income and value lost to Wales, never mind the detrimental impact on the environment. So, how will you ensure that we improve and increase processing capacity in Wales? And do you agree that one way of doing so would be to enhance the market for food? And will the Government look at how it can work with public bodies in order to ensure local procurement to promote the economy and strengthen the sector? 

14:45

Yes, there were quite a lot of questions and some very important points in those questions, and, certainly, I think, one of the things I've done since I've been in portfolio is to try and encourage processors to come to Wales to show that we're really keen to attract them here. Certainly, dairy—that was an area where we were seeing milk go over the border to England in a way that was not good, I didn't think, for Wales. So, we have done some significant work, working with the major processors to ensure that stayed in Wales.

Around public procurement, this is a massive opportunity now, I think, for us to ensure that our public services use Welsh food and drink far more. I don't think we will be able to sustain ourselves with the amount of food that we're producing at the moment, but I'm really keen to do all I can to ensure that we make the most of that. I met with an organisation over recess who were telling me that they were working with the agricultural sector to look at future food, so food that perhaps farmers hadn't even thought that they would be able to grow at the current time. So, I think it is really important that Government works in partnership with these organisations to make sure we take absolute advantage of all the opportunities. 

Dog Breeding

3. What action is the Welsh Government taking to regulate dog breeding in Wales? OQ56814

Thank you. The Animal Welfare (Breeding of Dogs) (Wales) Regulations 2014 regulate dog breeding in Wales. The Animal Welfare (Licensing of Activities Involving Animals) (Wales) Regulations 2021 prohibit commercial third party sales of puppies from licensed premises. The Welsh Government is funding a three-year local authority project to improve consistency and enforcement of the current regulations.

Thank you, Minister. I welcome the new rules, informally known as Lucy's law, which came into force last Friday, surrounding puppy and kitten breeding in Wales, and I pay tribute to the many organisations, individuals, including my colleague Janet Finch-Saunders, and many across this Chamber who've campaigned for these improvements and changes. While these rules arrive on our statute books some 18 months later than our neighbours', I'm sure that they will be a valuable tool in the fight to eradicate puppy farms, moving forward. Minister, with local authorities being empowered with these new tools, what reassurances can you give that local authorities won't see this as an additional financial burden? And what consideration has been given to providing formal powers to RSPCA inspectors under the Animal Welfare Act 2006? 

Well, just for the record, whilst we were later than England in relation to this, we went beyond Lucy's law. That's why it's not called Lucy's law; we went beyond that, and ours is far stronger. You will have heard my answer to Vikki Howells—I think it was question 1—around how we have been working. We haven't just been sitting back waiting for these regulations to come into force; we've been working with our local authorities. We funded the three-year project, which is still ongoing, which enhances the training and better guidance for inspectors, and it really improves resources within local authorities. I don't think any of them thought it would be more of a cost. We are continuing to work with the enforcement project, and Monmouthshire County Council is looking at how we set up a database so that members of the public can access the licensing rules and the breeders that they are able to go to, and to provide information, as I say, for purchasers. I understand they went out to tender earlier this year, and those tenders are currently being processed. But I think a database of that quality would be really good, going forward. 

It's encouraging to know that there is movement in ending the abhorrent practice of ear cropping dogs. Ear cropping is linked to unlicensed breeders, especially of American bully type dogs, and local rescues, such as Hope Rescue in Llanharan, are inundated with reports of ear-cropped dogs and have concerns around current resources to investigate complaints, especially when also linked with unlicensed breeding. For example, it took seven months to bring one breeder to justice, and I'm told that there have been 30 unlicensed breeders with ear-cropped dogs reported to one local authority recently. I'm sure the Minister, like me, wants to see such practices resigned to the history books here in Wales, and I would be grateful if she would be able to update Members on what actions the Welsh Government are taking to address the resource gap reported by rescues across Wales, specifically when it come to ear cropping.

14:50

Again, I haven't really heard of the increase in ear cropping of dogs investigations that you refer to, but if you do have some specific examples of it, I'd be very keen for you to write to me so I can take it up with the chief veterinary officer and ask her to look into it. I think it is fair to say that a lot of the legislation, which isn't devolved—I mean, some of it is; some of it isn't—but certainly some of the legislation that's reserved, is not fit for purpose, around particularly our rural crime that we're seeing. I've had discussions—I mean, we've now got a rural and wildlife crime commissioner, but prior to that—with some of the rural teams in relation to this. So, I have been ensuring officials work with the UK Government to make sure that legislation is fit for purpose. But I would be grateful if you could write to me specifically on this point, please.

I have a rescue greyhound. Every year, young and healthy greyhound dogs are killed because they lack winning potential, were injured while they were racing, or are no longer competitive. Racing greyhounds routinely experience terrible injuries on the track, such as broken legs, cardiac arrest, spinal cord paralysis and broken necks. My own dog has a very injured neck, for example, so I can speak from experience. They also suffer off the track, spending most of their time stacked in warehouse-style kennels. Minister, given the level of cruelty to greyhounds, I hope the Government can move to consider a ban on greyhound racing here in Wales. Could you please make a statement on your position on banning greyhound racing in Wales? Thank you. Diolch yn fawr iawn.

Thank you, and it's great that you have a rescue dog. Certainly, when I was at the Dogs Trust last week—no, the week before, sorry—promoting our ban on third party sales, there were several greyhounds at the dog rescue. I probably shouldn't tell you that, because you'll be going round there. We did have a discussion around the number, because it was very obvious how many were there. I will have to write to the Member on the current position in relation to greyhounds.FootnoteLink

Road Repairs

4. What discussions has the Minister had with the Minister for Climate Change regarding repairing roads in north Wales that were affected by flooding this year? OQ56817

Diolch. I have not had any specific discussions with the Minister for Climate Change. However, transport officials have been in discussion with local authorities and are awaiting applications for funding this financial year for ground investigation and detailed design works. Local authorities are fully aware of what was required, and the sooner Welsh Government receives the information requested, the sooner it can be considered.

Thank you for your answer. The B5605 at Newbridge near Wrexham, as I'm sure you will have guessed I was going to raise, was swept away, of course, by a landslip caused by storm Christoph recently. It isn't a rural back road, as you know. It's quite an important through road for a large number of communities, a large number of people, and it transpires now it could be two, maybe three years before that road is fixed, if at all, if funding is available. Now, the delays have already led to greater subsidence at the site, which will only ultimately mean a greater cost to fix the road. So, in your role as Minister for north Wales, can I ask what efforts you've made to make fixing this road a greater priority of Welsh Government, and, indeed, what efforts you've made to try and make sure that funding is available to fix the road as soon as possible?

So, whilst I haven't had a discussion with the Minister for Climate Change, I have had a discussion with officials at Wrexham council. I did a visit to the aqueduct, and, of course, as you know, the road that you refer to, which, of course, Wrexham council are responsible for, is not far away. So, I know there's been a further meeting between transport officials and officers at Wrexham council. As I say, we're waiting for an application for funding for this financial year for ground investigation and the design works. That, then, will inform, obviously, any future application that comes from the council for funding the construction work that's required. I know that Wrexham council did submit a bid for funding to make urgent repairs to the flood risk management infrastructure. But that funding—it was, obviously, previously in my portfolio—is only available when it's acting in accordance with the Flood and Water Management Act and in line with the policy that's set out in the national strategy for flood and coastal erosion risk management infrastructure and the grant memorandum. So, their bid was unsuccessful because any repair works wouldn't reduce the risk of flooding, which, obviously, is the reason funding is given. So, I appreciate that it's very frustrating, but it is really up to the council now to make sure that they provide the information that the Welsh Government have asked for. So, I will continue to press for this. Obviously, it is a matter of urgency, but I'm afraid that the ball is firmly in the council's court. 

14:55

Good afternoon, Minister. Flooding caused by last winter's storm—storm Christoph—had a devastating impact on communities in the Vale of Clwyd, most notably with the destruction of the historic Llanerch bridge, which lies between Trefnant and Tremeirchion, and isolating these communities as they're rural. The latest estimates put the start of the works to replace the bridge during the summer of 2023. I don't find this acceptable, as don't over 300 of my constituents, who recently signed a petition online calling for a swift resolution. Do you agree with me, Minister, that the historic bridge should be replaced sooner and will you work with the local authority to expedite the reconstruction of the Llanerch bridge? Thank you very much.

Obviously, in my capacity as Minister for north Wales, again, this has not been raised directly with me, but I'm sure that it has been raised—I'm not even sure if you haven't raised it—with the Minister for Climate Change. But I will certainly ask where the bid is and what work has been done with organisations to have a look at this bridge in Llanerch and I will write to the Member.

I'm aware of quite a lot of infrastructure in north Wales that's been impacted by flooding, including those two examples that have been raised today, and they've not fitted that criteria for funding that the Minister mentioned earlier. I am aware, as previous cabinet member for transportation, that, every year, there's an underspend that usually goes to the trunk road agency. I think, last year, there was an underspend of £16 million and previously £20 million—it's quite a significant amount of underspend that goes back, sometimes to local authorities, but mainly the trunk road agency, which does have quite a lot of funding each year that I'm aware of. And with the pause on building new roads as well, could that money be reallocated to help with infrastructure that's been damaged by flooding, which would greatly help local authorities that are really cash-strapped in north Wales? That's the question to you, thank you.

Thank you. As I just referred, that budget sits with the Minister for Climate Change, or the Deputy Minister for Climate Change, and, as you're aware, he's currently doing a review of roads. I'm not personally aware of any underspend and, obviously, we're not very well into this financial year yet. But, clearly, it might be advisable if you wrote to the Deputy Minister for Climate Change on that specific point around his budget.

Pet Theft

5. What assessment has the Welsh Government made of the impact of pet theft on animal welfare in Wales? OQ56815

Thank you. The theft of pets is a criminal act. It is a reserved issue under the Theft Act 1968. DEFRA recently published the pet theft taskforce report and recommendations. My officials will continue to discuss the proposed UK Government's new criminal laws and how we can collaborate to tackle this serious issue, alongside issuing strong messaging on responsible ownership.

Diolch, Weinidog. I also want to raise the issue of pet theft with the Minister, alongside Natasha Asghar, and especially dog theft, because we did see that sharp rise in the demand for pups during the pandemic, which has been linked to the recent rise in dog thefts, as, sadly, dogs have increasingly become a profitable target for thieves. In my region of South Wales West, 59 dogs were rescued in an operation across Swansea and Neath Port Talbot in April this year. A number of these dogs were believed to have been stolen, and this was in addition to six stolen dogs rescued by police in Briton Ferry in January. I welcome that which you said in your answer previously about co-operation with DEFRA, but can you tell worried owners in my region when we can expect action to be taken on this issue here in Wales? Can you provide a timetable, and how, specifically, is the Welsh Government working with police and other stakeholders, like RSPCA Cymru, to deal with this matter?

15:00

Well, we are working closely, obviously, with the police. As I say, it's a criminal act. It's no different to stealing a car. It's far more emotive, and I absolutely understand that. As I say, I think that people are very afraid because we did see a significant rise in the theft of, particularly, dogs—puppies and dogs—during the pandemic, when there was that increased request for them.

There are some key recommendations in the DEFRA taskforce, which I think we can certainly look to work in. For instance, how we enhance the record-keeping of dogs as pets, because at the moment, we probably don't have that in the way—. One of the reasons for having the database for breeders was then to try and see if we could enhance that to have some sort of register of pet owners, for instance. At the moment, the current legislation just treats pets as mere property. That was why I gave the analogy with cars. So, I think that there is more that we can do around that.

Pet abduction needs to be a specific offence, rather than just that you are stealing something. It's a specific offence. So, I think that that is another area that we can look at. But we are working closely at the moment on this taskforce. I haven't got a complete timeline that I can give you, but please be assured that it is a priority.

We know that there has been an increase in dog theft, for example, over the past year or so. What discussions has the Minister had with the police about the information to new pet owners about the steps that they could take to safeguard their pets?

I'm not aware of any specific discussions in the way that you referred. I have outlined the work that we are doing as a Government to ensure that there is a focus on this, because we have certainly seen an increase in pet theft. I think that it is really important that owners take steps that they can do also to ensure the safety of them. We have certainly seen some horrendous cases that have been highlighted to me, and I think that Sioned Williams just highlighted an important case in her region. But I'm not aware of any specific discussions.

Bryn Cegin Business Park

6. What discussions has the Minister had with the Minister for Economy regarding the current responsibility of the Welsh Government in developing Bryn Cegin business park in Bangor? OQ56823

Diolch. There have been no specific ministerial discussions regarding Parc Bryn Cegin. A recent BBC headline misleadingly suggested that the Welsh Government agreed the sale of the undeveloped business park. The sale of two plots have been approved by the Minister for Economy, and a number of further enquiries are being progressed.

Well, thank you very much, because I read in the press that it was the Government's intention to sell the park, or parts of the park. It's good to have confirmation from you today that you are talking about two plots and not the whole park. But it is scandalous, isn't it, that not a single job has been created in this park after almost 20 years under the management of Welsh Government. So, may I ask you, as Minister for north Wales, what is the long-term plan for this park? And is selling these plots good news, or is it a signal that the Government has given up entirely in terms of bringing jobs to this important site?

No, not at all. The site has been identified as a potential development opportunity within the north Wales growth deal, for instance. I know that officials are working very closely with the north Wales economic ambition board to continue to explore investment and job opportunities at the site. There has been a spike in market interest recently, and I know that there are a number of enquiries, as I referred to in my original answer. We also continue to work very closely with Gwynedd Council to see what we can continue to do to attract businesses to the site.

Mixed Arable and Livestock Farming

7. How will the Welsh Government ensure a sustainable future for small and medium-scale family-run mixed arable and livestock farming in the south Wales valleys? OQ56801

15:05

Thank you. I propose to create a new system of farm support, which maximises the protective power of nature through farming. This will be available to all types of farms in Wales, rewarding our active farmers who take action to respond to the climate and nature emergencies, supporting them to produce food sustainably.

I thank the Minister for that answer, and ‘active farmers’ are key to that answer. Cwm Risca farm, which I know very well—I’ve visited them many times, most recently in the last couple of weeks—is a classic, small to medium-scale family-run enterprise. It’s diversified. It’s award winning as well. It’s mixed arable and livestock. It does the right thing for its fields, it does the right thing for the community, for the environment—it’s the type of farming that supports the local community and culture as well. It’s the type of farming we should be supporting in Wales, and it’s the opposite of the absentee-landlord, speculator-driven agri-industrial type of farming we see elsewhere.

So, in these uncertain times, Minister, with changes in funding, waiting for funding from the UK Government to be confirmed post Brexit as well, our biodiversity targets and climate change targets are stretching as well, how can we give the assurance that this type of farming is the type of farming we will see for the long term, for sustainable food, a sustainable environment and sustainable communities in Wales? And would she at some time come and visit Cwm Risca, because I know the welcome would be good, the discussion great, and the cake and tea good as well?

The cake and tea is always good on farm visits, I’ve always found, and certainly I’d be very happy to do a visit, if they would like to invite me, Huw.

Small and medium-scale farms play an absolutely fundamental role in the resilience of so many of our rural communities, and that’s why they must be protected. As you say, it’s been a very uncertain time, and continues to be, for our agricultural sector, certainly because of EU exit, I think, primarily.

Next week, I will be making a statement on the next steps in relation to our sustainable farming scheme. At the current time, we are conducting a range of analysis to explore the potential impacts of our proposals, therefore helping us then to design our scheme to provide those opportunities for farms across Wales. The future scheme’s got to work for farmers. It’s got to work for all farms—small, medium and large—so that they can help us achieve our ambitions, because they absolutely see themselves as part of the solution to the difficulties that we face.

We’re going to have a further phase of co-design with the industry. I think it’s fair to say our co-design has certainly been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic—we’re not as far forward as we would have liked to have been. So, we’ve really stepped up that co-design work over the past couple of months to make sure that we shape our proposals in the correct way. We’ve had a great response from the agricultural sector for that first phase of the work, and I really, again, would encourage any farmer to get involved in the next phase.

Farmers in Pembrokeshire

8. What is the Welsh Government doing to support farmers in Pembrokeshire? OQ56808

Farmers in Pembrokeshire received over £17 million of basic payment scheme payments during the past year, and our Farming Connect service continues to provide crucial support and advice. As you heard before, I was very pleased to attend the Pembrokeshire county show last month, and really enjoyed being able to meet the farming community in Pembrokeshire once more.

Thank you for that response, Minister, and I’m delighted that you enjoyed the Pembrokeshire county show a few weeks ago. Now, as we’ve already heard on the floor of this Chamber today, bovine TB continues to pose a significant threat to farmers in Wales, including farmers in Pembrokeshire and, despite their efforts to clamp down on it through cattle-based measures, it continues to place enormous emotional and financial strain on farming families. Therefore, Minister, what assessment has the Welsh Government made of the emotional and financial strain on farmers caused by bovine TB? And will you finally commit to looking at this issue holistically, including dealing with the disease in wildlife, when you bring forward your bovine TB refresh strategy later this year, so that we can stop bovine TB doing irreparable damage to agriculture and to our rural communities?

We’ve always looked at this disease holistically, and it’s really important that we work in partnership together with our farmers. It is a dreadful disease and I don’t underestimate the emotional impact it has. And as you say, it has a financial impact, of course, and I’ve spoken to several farmers over the summer on visits around this dreadful disease. As you have just referred to, I will be making a further statement for the next stage of the refreshing of the eradication programme in November. It's good to see that there's been a decrease in new incidents during the most recent 12-month period, and I will continue to do all I can to work with the sector, to try and eradicate this awful disease as quickly as possible. You will have heard me say about the discussions I've had with Glyn Hewinson, and, of course, the vaccination is only one thing that, unfortunately, is still about four years away. But you will be aware of the bespoke action plans that we've had, with the herds that are in long-term breakdown, and we've seen some progress there too.

15:10
3. Topical Questions

The next item would have been the topical questions, but no topical questions have been accepted.

4. 90-second Statements

The next item, therefore, is the 90-second statements, and the first 90-second statement this afternoon is from Samuel Kurtz.

Diolch, Llywydd. Today marks the National Farmers Union's annual Back British Farming Day, a fantastic opportunity in which we can recognise, support and thank our hard-working farmers from across the United Kingdom. Welsh farming is the cornerstone of Wales's £7.5 billion food and drink supply chain industry, employing over 229,500 workers and contributing millions of pounds to Wales's economy. From Snowdonia's world-renowned cheese to Pembrokeshire's multi award-winning hand-picked early potatoes, our farmers are working 24/7, 365 days a year to deliver outstanding produce for the millions of families across Wales and the United Kingdom. Indeed, Llywydd, Back British Farming Day marks the perfect opportunity for us all to take a moment and reflect on the industry's contribution, both throughout the pandemic and beyond. During this pandemic, it was our farmers who continued to tend to the land to ensure that food was available throughout. As we continue to fight back against climate change, it is our farmers who, as the natural custodians of our environment, lead the way with their exceptional animal welfare and environmental standards. Therefore, Llywydd, I hope Members join me in taking the opportunity in saying 'thank you' to our farmers in recognition of their commitment and contribution. Diolch.

Diolch yn fawr, Llywydd. Llywydd, last Friday was World Suicide Prevention Day. For many of us, this day is one that brings challenges but also one that brings determination and hope—hope that, together, we can raise awareness of how we can create a world where fewer people die by suicide. The latest statistics show that, in 2018 in the UK and the Republic of Ireland, more than 6,800 people died by suicide, and I want to be clear, Llywydd, that every life lost to suicide is a tragedy. We can create a safer world by raising awareness of the support that's already out there, and campaigning for better support, more available support and more approachable support. But I must say, Llywydd, it pains me that there is still significant stigma around not being okay. And I have absolutely no shame, in standing in this Chamber today, in saying that, sometimes, I don't always feel good. So, Llywydd, and Members around this Chamber, you usually know, and we understand, that when we stand up in this Chamber, we usually have a request for the Government. But today, I have a simple request for you all—a favour, if I can put it that way: check in with your friends, check in with your colleagues and ask them, 'Are you okay?' Remind them that it is okay to not be okay, and, importantly, be there for them when they need you. Diolch yn fawr. [Applause.]

On 12 September 1981, CND Cymru was formed in a conference in Newtown. But even though we celebrate this important milestone, this is bittersweet. After all, the organisation was established to campaign specifically against nuclear weapons, and with nuclear weapons still present worldwide, it is a cause of great sadness to many that the organisation still has to exist and still has to campaign. Only when the final missile has been decommissioned and the world is free from mass weapons of destruction can we celebrate this work. The campaign continues, and I'd like to thank all of those individuals in our communities that have been part of the story of this movement. It's thanks to them that the nuclear-free Wales statement was signed, which meant that Wales was the first nation in the world to state that it is a nuclear-free state. And thanks to them, CNC Cymru has acted as a partner in the international campaign to abolish nuclear weapons. The president of CND Cymru, Jill Evans, asked us to restate our objective to eradicate nuclear weapons. In Jill's words, 'Nuclear weapons are too dangerous and are too expensive. They are immoral and illegal. Getting rid of nuclear weapons would set a new direction, a safe direction and a better direction, for Wales and the world.' Hear, hear.

15:15

Thank you, Llywydd. The Swansea valley community where I live, and the community I represent, and the whole of Wales today commemorates the Gleision colliery disaster exactly 10 years since the disaster. On 15 September 2011, four local colliers were killed—Charles Breslin, David Powell, Phillip Hill and Garry Jenkins—in the Gleision quarry in Cilybebyll near Pontardawe when the colliery was flooded. I'm sure that we all here are thinking of the families today. Grief is an extremely difficult process in and of itself under any circumstances, but, in this case, the families have to face the additional pain of not having a full inquest into the tragedy held. There are questions still to be answered about what happened, and there are lessons to be learned for the future about dangers that still exist, unfortunately, in the coal-mining industry. I would like to support their call for an inquest into these deaths.

The disaster had a grave impact on communities in that area, and there will be two events to remember the four people lost. There will be a memorial dram unveiled by Cilybebyll Community Council in Rhos park, the area where the families gathered to wait for news exactly 10 years ago today, and at 6 o'clock Ystalyfera Community Council will unveil a memorial bench.

The price of coal has been too high in Wales. We must ensure everything is done so no more families like those of the Gleision miners pay this terrible and unacceptable price. We remember them today—fe'u cofiwn.

We will now take a short break to allow for changeovers in the Chamber.

Plenary was suspended at 15:17.

15:30

The Senedd reconvened at 15:32, with the Deputy Presiding Officer (David Rees) in the Chair.

5. Welsh Conservatives Debate: Access to defibrillators

The following amendment has been selected: amendment 1 in the name of Lesley Griffiths.

Welcome back, and the next item is the Welsh Conservatives' debate, access to defibrillators. I call on Gareth Davies to move the motion.

Motion NDM7771 Darren Millar

To propose that the Senedd:

1. Notes that only 1 in 10 people survive an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest.

2. Further notes that for every minute a patient does not have access to a defibrillator or cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), their chances of survival drops by 10 per cent.

3. Recognises that a network of defibrillators will save lives.

4. Calls on the Welsh Government to provide grant funding or loans to enable community halls, sports grounds and independent shops to buy and install a defibrillator.

Motion moved.

Thank you very much, Deputy Llywydd. It's a pleasure to open this debate in the name of Darren Millar on behalf of the Welsh Conservative group. This motion today is something I know garners huge cross-party support. The out-of-hospital cardiac arrest survival rate in Wales is the lowest in the UK and one of the lowest in Europe. This is something that all of us in this Chamber should do all we can to improve in Wales. What better way to follow up on World First Aid Day, which happened at the weekend, and to mark Save a Life September, than by supporting this motion before us? Some 30,000 people across the UK suffer a cardiac arrest outside of hospital every year, with only one in 10 people before the pandemic surviving. And now, the British Heart Foundation are estimating that one in 20 people survive as a consequence of the pandemic. 

Defibrillators play a huge part in saving someone's life when they suffer a cardiac arrest. If used within five minutes of a cardiac arrest, it can increase survival rates from 6 per cent to 74 per cent. Without immediate treatment, the vast majority of sudden cardiac arrest victims will die, which is why access to defibrillators is so important. I'd like to take this opportunity to thank Calon Hearts for providing defibrillators in my hometown of Prestatyn and at Denbigh Rugby Club. These vital machines will undoubtedly save the lives of my constituents, but we need so many more of them. While charities such as Calon Hearts, the British Heart Foundation, as well as rotary clubs up and down the country are doing what they can, the Welsh Government needs to step up. 

They have to ensure that there are defibs in every community in Wales and legions of people trained in CPR. Without these two vital links in the chain of survival, far too many people die from a cardiac arrest. We have all seen the stories over the past few weeks about the performance of our ambulance service. The Welsh Ambulance Services NHS Trust is overworked and overwhelmed. In my health board, Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board, only half of all 999 red calls receive a response within the eight-minute target. Our motion points out the chance of surviving a cardiac arrest decreases by 10 per cent every minute. It's no wonder that the survival rate of cardiac arrest in Wales is the lowest of the United Kingdom nations. Just over 4.5 per cent of people survive a cardiac arrest in Wales. Over the border in England, twice as many people survive, statistically.

With fewer and fewer 999 calls meeting the red call target, we must ensure that people in the community have the tools and skills to respond. It takes as little as 30 minutes to train someone in CPR, and a defibrillator can be used without any training at all. Modern automated external defibrillators, or AEDs, the kind of kit being provided by Welsh charities, are idiot proof. They instruct the user on how to operate the machine and save somebody’s life.

It has been just over three months since Christian Eriksen, the Denmark national football team captain, collapsed during a Euro 2020 match against Finland. And more seasoned footballers might remember Marc-Vivien Foé back in 2003, I think: he played for Manchester City; he sadly didn't survive, but Christian Eriksen did, fortunately. As people around the world watched the remarkable medical team intervene to save Eriksen’s life, it became clear that the football star had suffered a cardiac arrest. Thankfully, the quick-thinking medical team jumped into action and carried out CPR on him and used a defibrillator to save his life. But, unfortunately, not everyone is as lucky as Christian Eriksen, as we saw all those years ago with Marc-Vivien Foé. Maqsood Anwar also, aged 44, died after suffering a suspected heart attack while playing cricket in the Vale of Glamorgan earlier in the summer, and a few weeks later, 31-year-old Alex Evans died after having a cardiac arrest while playing rugby in Neath Port Talbot.

According to the Resuscitation Council, the public needs to be within 200m of a defibrillator. Given their life-saving impact, it is fundamentally important that we have defibrillators installed in as many easily accessible public spaces across Wales as possible. There are currently just over 4,000 external defibrillators in Wales, something which the Welsh Conservatives want to change quickly. But we cannot rely upon charities to provide these vital pieces of life-saving kit—the expense is just too great. Each machine can cost around £1,500, particularly those machines robust enough to be placed in community settings. It is the Government that is failing to provide sufficient emergency cover, so it should be the Government that funds the cost of the training and the kit to provide emergency cardiac care in the community.

According to a Welsh Government report in 2019, over 55 per cent of people surveyed said that they did not know where the nearest defibrillator was. Two years later, they have finally introduced funding for Save a Life Cymru. This funding is helping to develop a programme to educate people on how to help someone suffering a cardiac arrest, and also to help people gain confidence in using a defibrillator. Although this funding and scheme are welcome, we simply need to do more. The people of Wales deserve to have a defibrillator in every community hall, sports ground and even in independent shops, so that we can slash the number of deaths by cardiac arrest in Wales.

I urge Members to support this motion today and send out a clear message that Wales is taking action during Save a Life September. Diolch yn fawr iawn.

15:35

I have selected the amendment to the motion. I call on the Minister for Health and Social Services to formally move amendment 1, tabled in the name of Lesley Griffiths.

Amendment 1—Lesley Griffiths

Delete point 4 and replace with new points:

4. Recognises the £2.5 million funding provided by Welsh Government to Save a Life Cymru to improve awareness and access to CPR and defibrillation.

5. Notes the Welsh Government commits to extending this support by £500k this year to further increase the number of defibrillators in community settings across Wales.

Amendment 1 moved.

We will be supporting this motion today. This isn't a party political matter, of course. I've worked on joint statements with Labour and Conservative Members in the past on this issue, and what is in front of us today is sensible and asks for basic and practical steps to be taken to save lives across Wales. It's a campaign I've been a part of myself. It's relevant to all of us. 

Whilst the majority of cases of cardiac arrest happen within the home, a significant proportion of them happen outwith the home. And we know how vitally important the availability of defibrillators is to provide an opportunity for someone to survive an event such as this. One amongst us has had this experience relatively recently, but it happens on a daily basis. There are places in particular where we know that it's vitally important to have these machines, because international studies show that one is more likely to suffer a cardiac arrest in transport hubs, in shopping centres, in sports centres, in places such as golf courses and so on. So, it should be the aim for each one of us to ensure that there is genuine support, practical support and financial support from Government to allow that to happen, and there is always room for the Government to do more.

And that's why I don't want to support, and we won't be supporting the Government amendment today. Of course the Government has invested in this area already, and what we have here is an amendment that notes that. But I think we need to do more on a day like this than just noting the steps that have already been taken by Government. What we want is for the Government to accept, yes, there is more that we can do, always.

There is so much more that needs to be looked at than just funding. The question of a register is very important. There is one register, The Circuit—the national defibrillator network—where it is possible to note where all of these machines are across the United Kingdom, and I know that the British Heart Foundation is calling for the UK Government to encourage those who look after their own machines to register them. Awareness raising is always important. How many of us here have been taught by the British Heart Foundation and others how to use defibrillators? I, and my office, have opened the door to hold classes in the past for more people to have that practical information on how to use these machines. So, we do need to do much more to improve awareness amongst the public.

But, as an initial step, let us all support this motion, and make it clear that we, as a Senedd, are united on this question of the importance of these small machines that can make such a big difference to the lives of individuals and families in all parts of Wales. 

15:40

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate today. There aren't many days when I walk in and don't think of this subject, because I see my colleague from Blaenau Gwent here, who has spoken eloquently of his personal experience—traumatic experience, I would suggest—and the importance of people having knowledge, when it comes to defibrillators, means that he is here with us. There are some days when he is contributing that maybe I wish he was in the tea room rather then in here—[Laughter.]—but it's great to see him around and walking and enjoying life.

And it is good to see a smile on people's faces when that is said, because the other contributor to this debate in the previous Assembly was Suzy Davies, who led many a debate in here about the need to have, in the curriculum in particular, education around defibrillators and the use of defibrillators in the community, because there's no point in having them if you can't use them and deploy them, and I think we all agree with that point as well. I'm pleased to see that the former Government did change its stance after much lobbying from Suzy Davies to get this important point into the Curriculum and Assessment (Wales) Act 2021, so that there would be space within the curriculum for that education to be provided in colleges and schools the length and breadth of Wales, because, again, we hear the numbers, as Gareth in his opening remarks touched on, and 8,000 people will experience a cardiac arrest in Wales every year.

Cardiac arrests kill more people than lung cancer, breast cancer and AIDS combined—combined. That's worth reflecting on. With lung cancer, breast cancer and AIDS combined, more people die of cardiac arrest here in Wales. But there is a solution: we can make these devices more readily available, and we can make sure that these devices are in every community the length and breadth of Wales. But what's important is that when we make them available they're available for 24/7 use, not just in limited occupations, such as in college settings, for example, where many colleges indicate that they have them, and that's to be welcomed, but it's not much good being in the college if the door's locked and you can't get to it when you need it. And so that's why we need more community activism to try and get more community halls, and sports settings in particular, to make sure they make use of these facilities. And that's why I've been so pleased in my role—and I'm not seeking re-election in May next year, so this isn't a pitch for the election next year; I do declare an interest—that I've had the pleasure of playing a part in raising funds for at least five defibrillators in the ward of Rhoose to make sure that from the football club to the residential setting of Rhoose Point to the village of Llantrithyd, there are now defibrillators available to those communities. And that's where it is really important.

I regret that the Government have chosen to delete the one point in this motion today that actually called on action on behalf of the Government to engage with community groups to make sure money was available on a consistent and sustainable footing to make sure that we can get those numbers up that Gareth touched on. At the moment, we know there are about 4,000 defibrillators across Wales. We most probably need, if we're going to be having meaningful national coverage, double that number, and that's a big ask. But I do believe that the Government have taken a backward step in trying to seek to delete this point in the motion this afternoon, because it is a consensual motion and ultimately looks to achieve that national coverage by calling on the Government to make those national resources available.

I appreciate the Government amendment talks to money that's been made available by the Government to various community groups, but clearly, there's a lot, lot more work to be done. When you look at the education responses the Welsh Conservatives have had back, in particular from local education authorities, only Denbighshire could indicate exactly what the school settings had when it came to defibrillators. The other 11 local authorities out of 12 who responded to the FOI confirmed that there is no centralised database within the education department to indicate where in schools defibrillators might or might not be. Again, that's a gaping hole in our understanding of what we can do.

There's a lot of work to do, but we are making progress in this area. I hope we can find a consensus with this debate today, because as we've seen with the pandemic, regrettably it was one in ten before the pandemic who survived a cardiac arrest here in Wales, and it's now one in 20, so the numbers have gone backwards. That's no-one's fault, because of the pandemic—I accept that—but it emphasises the mountain that we've got to climb and the work we've got to do in communities across the whole of Wales to make sure that we create greater education around the use of defibrillators, and access to defibrillators, importantly. I'll repeat that line again: they need to be readily available 24/7. There's no point in ticking a box saying that defibrillator is in a locked setting that's unavailable for 12 hours of the day, or for the weekend period. Because as Alun had in his experience, he happened to be in a park; at the end of the day, he was lucky that somebody someone went past and could action what was needed to do to bring him back to life. But who knows where that might strike one of those 8,000 people in Wales who would have that cardiac episode.

I call on the Government to do more, as inevitably the opposition does when it comes to debates on a Wednesday afternoon. But I do commend the Government for the work that it did in the last Assembly with Suzy Davies in making sure that there was a space in the education curriculum to allow greater educational learning so people know what to do if they're presented with that. I'm getting looked at by the Presiding Officer now, because the red line has come up, so on that note, I'll close. Thank you. 

15:45

I'm grateful to you, Deputy Presiding Officer. I'm grateful to the Welsh Conservatives as well for bringing this debate to the Senedd at the beginning of this new term, and I'm grateful for the kind words we've just heard.

In terms of where we are, the speech just made by Andrew R.T. Davies is absolutely correct: it is good and we do welcome and we are grateful for the work that Government has completed, and we're eternally grateful for the work of individuals and groups and communities up and down the country who have put in place this life-saving equipment in communities across Wales. But what I will say to the Minister this afternoon is that you cannot rely on charity to deliver an emergency response when somebody is lying between life and death with only minutes to spare. You cannot rely on goodwill or good wishes on a Wednesday afternoon to deliver the treatment that is required. It is only Government that can deliver that. I hope that this afternoon we will reflect on the experience of people—not so much the experience of people like myself who have suffered a cardiac arrest and survived, but the families who have lost loved ones because they didn't survive, and we know Members here in this Chamber have been affected by that in that way.

We know that people who appear to be in the best of health have suffered a cardiac arrest with no warning, no symptoms, no chance and no opportunity to seek medical help and medical support. It was terrifying to watch what happened to Christian Eriksen in the summer. What happened to him was exactly what was described as happened to me—no warning, no knowledge, in the middle of some physical activity you anticipated, you expected, to survive. He fell down with a cardiac arrest in exactly the same way as I did. It is only the support and help of people in our community that will enable the paramedics, the cardiologists and the surgeons to use their skills, to use their knowledge, to use their experience to ensure that people can then go on and live their lives. Certainly, the treatment that I received here in Cardiff has enabled me to carry on living my life. And I apologise if, Andrew R.T. Davies, I sometimes make you uncomfortable, but then again, you wouldn't expect anything different.

Let me say this: we have a responsibility in this place to do more than to make speeches, and to do more than extend goodwill and good wishes to people across this country. We have a responsibility to put in place the structures that will enable people to survive these experiences. I hope that Members across the Chamber will support the private Member legislation that I will be putting forward again this week. Members were kind enough to support the legislative proposal I made in the last Senedd to provide a legal, statutory responsibility on Welsh Ministers to ensure that defibrillators are available in communities up and down the country, and that people have the training available to use those defibrillators and to provide CPR until a defibrillator can be used. Because it is not just the location of the defibrillator that matters, it is the maintenance of that defibrillator, it is ensuring that that defibrillator is available for use when it is needed. I had a cardiac arrest at 7 o'clock on a Friday evening. You cannot rely on people to have a cardiac arrest in working hours in a convenient location. We already stipulate and demand health and safety legislation throughout our society, from fire safety through to all other means of maintaining and ensuring that life is protected. This is something that we should be mandating as well.

I'll say this in closing. I'm grateful to the Conservatives, as I've already said, and grateful for the kind words, and I don't wish to spend too much time simply talking about my own experience, but words matter. Words certainly do matter, but what matters more than words is action. We will have the opportunity in this Senedd to legislate to provide for a statutory framework to enable people across Wales to know that they have this life-saving equipment available in communities up and down the country. We will build on the work that Suzy Davies led in the last Senedd to ensure that the training is available. And we can't simply rely on schools to deliver that; we have to go to workplaces and communities to deliver that as well. Then we have to ensure that there is a chain of survival in place that enables—

15:50

—us not just to save life, but to actually invest in the future of life as well. I hope that Members across the Chamber will come together and vote for this this afternoon, and will support the private legislation that I hope to put forward in this Senedd, to make all our hopes a reality. Thank you.

There are 2,000 out-of-hospital cardiac arrests in Wales annually. Immediate CPR and defibrillation can more than double the chances of survival. We are all in agreement that a network of defibrillators will save lives. I hope that you will join with me, though, in condemning whoever was responsible very recently for attacking and damaging a community-funded, newly installed automated external defibrillator in West Shore, Llandudno. The utter mindlessness of this defacement goes to show that awareness of the importance of AEDs and CPR needs to improve vastly.

Of course, I endorse the comments that have been made, and the huge debt of gratitude that we owe to our former colleague Suzy Davies, who campaigned tirelessly to see Wales join England and Scotland in making the teaching of life-saving skills a requirement of the new school curriculum. Teaching life-saving skills in schools will help address the fact that as many as three quarters of people surveyed by the British Heart Foundation would not feel confident enough to act if they saw somebody having a cardiac arrest. However, whilst we expect the guidance on the health and well-being area of learning and experience to be amended to state that learners should learn life-saving skills and first aid, why not, Minister, go a step further by stating that defibrillator training is mandatory too?

Throughout the pandemic, I have been taking steps to help, educate and protect the public. I have backed the Awyr Las Keep the Beats campaign, which encourages residents of all ages to practice CPR in the safety of their own home by using common household items such as balls, cushions and teddy bears. My constituency team have undertaken a CPR and defibrillator training course with St John Ambulance, so I thank St John Ambulance for that, ensuring that a full and proper knowledge of life-saving procedures is rooted right in my constituency in the beating heart of Llandudno. I would certainly encourage other Members to do the same with their office teams, so that we boost the number of people able and ready to respond in the event of an OHCA.

British Heart Foundation Cymru have estimated that there could be hundreds or even thousands of defibrillators in communities across Wales that never get used, because emergency services simply don't know where they are. To address this, the BHF is launching 'The Circuit', with the Association of Ambulance Chief Executives, St John Ambulance and Resuscitation Council UK. Bearing in mind that you are committed to a further £500,000 to further increase the number of defibrillators, I wonder if you could make it a condition of this funding that AEDs be registered on this circuit.

NHS Wales and Welsh Government have previously acknowledged that deprived communities are more likely to suffer from cardiovascular diseases and OHCA, and are less likely to survive than people from more affluent areas. The out-of-hospital cardiac arrest plan of June 2017 stated that work should be undertaken to ensure the public are not disadvantaged due to geography or social challenges. Many of us travel the length of Wales on a weekly basis, and I can safely say that I have only spotted one AED, beside the A5 in Padog, Ysbyty Ifan. That is clear evidence of geographic disadvantage. Communities with life-saving equipment should have bold signs informing the public of their presence. They should be as important as brown tourist signs. So, will you liaise with the Deputy Minister for Climate Change to deliver AED road signs?

Alongside introducing signs, I support the calls for grant funding to be made available to enable community halls, sports grounds and independent shops to buy and install a defibrillator. Personally, I would go a step further and propose that they be made available at each school in Wales. That, Minister, could be one of the major shocks that Wales needs to move a step closer to becoming a true life-saving nation. Thank you. Diolch. 

15:55

I would hope that there will be no disagreement today across the Chamber on this very important issue, and I will not repeat very valid points made. I echo Janet's calls in terms of that register. I think that is crucial. When you Google at the moment some areas in South Wales Central, I know of some defibs that exist but you cannot find them anywhere. Making sure that everybody is aware of those locations, especially on a local level, is crucially important, because you might rush to Google, but if you can't even find it there, I then think we have a major problem, especially when the emergency services aren't either aware. 

I just wanted to raise as part of this debate today one thing that was raised with me last week in relation to current defibrillators within South Wales Central, and the issue that some are attached to banks and that those branches have now closed. Similarly, some are attached to some offices in town centres, also which have been closed either during COVID as people work from home, or have now closed permanently as people make the shift to work from home. Therefore, if I may return to the point in terms of registering these so that they can be maintained and so on, because the worst thing that could happen is for someone to reach that defib and that it's not working either. So, it's one thing to invest, but we must have that long-term plan, because often the knowledge about these defibs is in someone's head—someone who's passionate, who's been fundraising in the community around this—and if we are to maintain that network, it is about ensuring that they are maintained, that they're useable, also that the visibility is there. So, it's really a plea for us all to work together to ensure that these are in every community, that they should be in every sports club and so on, and I think Janet's suggestion in terms of each school is also a very valid point, although those can, of course, be very far from communities and not be as accessible as some of our town centres. Therefore, I hope we could all work together to ensure that we do address this so that we are able to save as many lives as possible in this act. Thank you.

16:00

I'm grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this debate. The statistics are clearly worrying, and the survival rates of out-of-hospital cardiac arrest should be enough, on their own, to get us to act. There are a few challenges, however. Firstly, I do not believe that our nation is working quickly enough to build more capacity into our network of defibrillators. During the summer recess, I visited a community pharmacy and was shocked at the slow progress in rolling out a sufficient supply of defibrillators throughout the brilliant local pharmacies. In supporting the call for funding to be made available to venues throughout Wales to provide a network of defibrillators, I want the Government to commit to ensuring that every community pharmacy has access to support, as a key and essential part of our health service. Community pharmacies contain a number of staff with the skills to respond to the needs of the local population. Why not make better use of community pharmacies, which are a key part of our towns and villages, and professionals who come into contact with many people on a daily basis? Could the Minister today confirm how many community pharmacies have defibrillators today, compared to two or three years ago?

Secondly, according to the British Heart Foundation, less than 5 per cent of out-of-hospital cardiac arrests receive bystander defibrillation, and tens of thousands of defibrillators are currently not known by the ambulance services because they are not registered. Clearly, knowing a defibrillator's location can be the difference between life and death. Whilst we need to address the overall number of defibrillators, we also need to ensure that every unit is registered to allow the emergency services to locate them, and perhaps one way to find a defibrillator once it is activated by a member of the public would be similar to the AA phones on motorways, which give the exact location. Thirdly, the Resuscitation Council UK makes a strong case for an improvement in information and advice to people to build confidence amongst the population to use a defibrillator in an emergency. This is true in the delivery of CPR in the absence of a defibrillator too, and more challenging because of the direct action required on the part of the individual to administer the routine. I would also ask the Government to review its own out-of-hospital cardiac arrest plan, published in 2017. It clearly states that one of the plan's key outcomes is that defibrillators are,

'readily available and accessible to the public.'

It also sets out the goal that the public,

'are aware defibrillators are easy to use and can do no harm'.

That's written in this. I would ask the Minister, if we had any benchmarking that applied to the 2017 plan being written, and where we are now in securing the improvement to have the ability and accessibility. The plan is sensible and the intentions are clear, but the chapter on the implementation is weak on explaining what success would look like. It says,

'Whilst considerable work on some elements of the pathway have been taken forward, focus and pace is now required to develop the detail across the whole plan and embed its implementation across Wales.'

A report published by the Welsh Government in 2018 looked at public knowledge, attitude and behaviour towards CPR and defibrillators. The survey concluded that the proportion trained to use a defibrillator was much lower than in CPR, with only 23 per cent of all respondents reporting that they had undergone training. Although over 50 per cent of people said that they would like to receive some training. In the use of defibrillators, the level of confidence was lower than for those administering CPR, with only 38 per cent of respondents saying that they would be confident. Confidence levels were higher among those trained in CPR or in how to use defibrillators at 55 per cent and 88 per cent respectively.

Worryingly, however, was the proportion of respondents—that's 55 per cent—who did not know the location of their nearest defibrillator. Even among those who were defibrillator trained, 35 per cent reported that they did not know the location of their nearest defibrillators—

16:05

These figures might have changed in the past three years, although they show the scale of some of the challenge, even if we had the right number of defibrillators in place. I hope that the Minister will back the motion this afternoon. Thank you. 

The leader of the opposition spoke about consensus at the start of this debate and I agree with him: we do need to find consensus. You won't hear me say this often, but I thank the Welsh Conservatives for bringing this debate forward today—[Laughter.] 

But, Deputy Llywydd, I recently met with Mark King from the Oliver King Foundation, who are campaigning for a life-saving defibrillator in every single school across the United Kingdom. The foundation was set up in January of 2012, following the tragic death of Mark's son, 12-year-old Oliver King. Oliver died from sudden arrhythmic death syndrome—a hidden heart condition that kills 12 young people every week. Now, like many others across the Chamber, my meeting with Mark and the foundation got me thinking about the schools in my own community, so my office contacted the schools in Alun and Deeside, and they found that 23 schools did have a defibrillator, but 10 did not. Many of those 10 got back in touch with my office to ask how can they go about getting one and can they get one funded and they wanted advice on how to do that. So, I will be putting them in touch with the Oliver King Foundation, but I would also ask that the Welsh Government and local government colleagues across Wales consider mapping this out properly and help schools to get the life-saving equipment they so much need.

Furthermore, Deputy Llywydd, friends of mine recently made me aware of an elderly family member who fell ill in the early hours of the morning. Upon phoning 999, they were instructed to go to the nearest available defibrillator at the local supermarket, but unfortunately, the supermarket was shut and the defibrillator was locked inside. My friend was unable to access that. As we've heard from Members across all benches here today, it is vital that defibrillators are in a location that means that they're accessible 24 hours a day. Now, I have written to Morrisons in Connah's Quay in my own constituency asking them to facilitate this sensible move, and I would like other stores across my constituency and across Wales and the UK to do the same. So, I would urge the Minister and the Welsh Government to pursue this issue across Wales.

To sum up, Deputy Presiding Officer, because I am very grateful to you for letting me speak in this debate today, we all understand the difference between a defibrillator and what that can make in terms of life-saving or not, but training in using them and basic CPR training is also key to saving lives. And as we've heard this afternoon, nobody knows that better than my good friend Alun Davies, so I would like to pay tribute to those people who helped my good friend Alun Davies in his time of need, because without them, he wouldn't be here with me, disagreeing with the Welsh Conservatives, as we so much like to do. But not today: we do agree, and thank you so much for the debate. Diolch yn fawr.

16:10

Diolch yn fawr iawn. I'd like to thank Members for the thoughtful contributions that they have made today, and in particular, thank Darren Millar and Gareth for introducing this really important issue. Genuinely, there is consensus within this Chamber that this is a really important matter, and certainly there is cross-party support for this. I think that we are all united in the need to do more in this space.

As a Government, we share a commitment to improving people's chances of surviving an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest. My predecessor, as some of you have noted, launched the out-of-hospital cardiac arrest plan for Wales in 2017, with the aim of tackling the very poor outcomes that we have in Wales associated with people having cardiac arrests in the community. Recently, as Gareth mentioned, Members will recall that I reaffirmed aspects of that plan by allocating additional funding, about which I will just say more in a bit.  

As we have already heard from so many Members today, the fact is that a patient's chance of surviving an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest decreases by an estimated 10 per cent with every passing minute. We've heard lots of examples of that, and we have our very own example here, Alun, who—. I was very shocked when I saw the figure—that actually only 3 per cent would have managed that kind of situation and come through it. So, we are all really so grateful to have you here, Alun, and it really does underline the importance of the need for one of these defibrillators to be accessible.

So, survival rates are low, but there is a potential for many more lives to be saved, as has been demonstrated by the number of countries that have been taking active steps to improve each stage of what they call this chain of survival. This is the reason why we have got this plan, and that concerted action is being taken.

So, I fully support calls for more defibrillators, but I think that it's important for people to understand that making progress in this area is complex, and requires a number of things to be brought together—many of which have been touched upon by Members in this Chamber today.

I'm grateful to hear the Minister say that she would be pleased to see more defibrillators in Wales. You are the Minister. Will you set a target for the number of defibrillators that might be in existence across Wales by the end of this five-year Assembly term? At least then, if we have got a target, we have got something to aim for, rather than the warm words—and the sincere words, I take it—that the Minister has put on the record today. We need to know what sort of numbers we are talking about here. 

Well, I'm certainly happy to take a look at that. I think that the fact that we have put considerable additional resources in over this summer, I hope, will go some way towards reaching a target. I'm happy to look at a target because I do think that it's important that people keep our feet to the fire in this area. So, I am happy to look at that.

What's interesting is that, actually, there are areas where we are actually further ahead than they are in England, for example. I have been very taken by the campaign that Jack Sargeant mentioned, by Mark King, for example, who has been an incredible campaigner, trying to get people to introduce these into every school in the United Kingdom, in memory of his son, Oliver, who so tragically died. We have, actually, already offered every secondary school in Wales a defibrillator. That's already happened in Wales, so we are further ahead in some areas.

As I say, it's a complicated area. We have got to think about the skills issue, which so many people have touched upon and as Suzy Davies advocated so readily when she was here. On top of that, I think that it's really important that we understand that they have got to be maintained; otherwise, they are simply not worth having. So, I would join with Janet Finch-Saunders in condemning those who vandalise this life-saving equipment, wherever it happens in Wales. That's why we have established the Save a Life Cymru partnership, in January 2019, to bring together all of these different pieces of the jigsaw, in relation to encouraging public participation in taking action when faced with an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest. And Save a Life Cymru works with a very large number of organisations in this space, as well as mounting a comprehensive 'touch someone's life' communications campaign to encourage people to come forward, as so many of you have talked about. Some of you are making that active offer in your own communities.

The number of defibrillators is growing all the time. There are currently 5,423 public-access defibrillators that have been registered with the Welsh ambulance service trust and the circuit, and I'd just like to say something about that circuit, because Janet Finch-Saunders suggested perhaps that we should make this funding conditional on the fact that they need to register. So, you’re absolutely right—there's probably a lot more, but, if people don’t know where they are, that's not much good. So, I’m very happy to make that funding conditional on the fact that they have to register their whereabouts with the circuit.

We need to have designated carers for defibrillators—people who can look after them to ensure that they work properly. At the moment, only a little under 50 per cent of defibrillators have been registered and have maintenance people in place to ensure that the batteries and pads are regularly tested. So, it is a complex scenario—there's no point simply installing these machines. Recently, I announced £2.5 million in addition for that partnership with Save a Life Wales to raise awareness of CPR and defibrillators and to improve the use of these techniques. Today, I’d like to announce that we will take a step further and allocate £0.5 million in addition to secure more defibrillators for communities across Wales, and that is why we have put forward the amendment to the motion today.

I have asked my officials to work with Save a Life Wales on arrangements for the use of this funding. On 16 October we celebrate Heart Regeneration Day and Save a Life Wales, along with its partners across Wales, will encourage each and every one of us to participate in events. There will also be the Shoctober event from the Welsh ambulance service, and that will be promoted throughout October. This will raise awareness of the appropriate use of the 999 service and of hands-only CPR for primary school pupils. So, we will be continuing with that legacy that was so important to Suzy Davies.

I know that the public in Wales wants to play its part. Research has shown that public attitudes are positive and that people are eager to have training opportunities, but confidence in performing CPR or using defibrillators in Wales is low, and this is something we can change. So, I do hope that these efforts that I have outlined today will start to tackle issues such as public confidence, and that will improve outcomes for those suffering cardiac arrest out of hospital.

I would like to pay tribute to all of the organisations, including third sector organisations, who work particularly hard across Wales to improve the use of CPR and defibrillators. Every second counts when one suffers cardiac arrest, and each and every one of us can help to raise awareness of the importance of CPR and defibrillators. Thank you.

16:15